What is productive time as a researcher?


In August 2016 I went to EPIC, the annual conference dedicated to furthering the practice of ethnography in industry. One of the main themes for me across the 3 day program was the importance for reflection and ‘switching off’ when conducting research. The two Pecha Kuchas “What I think about when I think about running” from Simon Roberts and “How a 10-Day Silent Meditation Course Made Me a Better Researcher” from Shipra Kayan are two examples of how time away from thinking about your research, actually leads to a-ha moments and insights that sitting in a room actively thinking and thinking for hours just won’t deliver. Robbie Blinkoff’s “The Full Epiphany” made a perfect trifecta for me where he challenged us to use epiphanies as measures of ethnographic success.

These were timely messages to hear as I had just finished a project where 12-14hour days had become normal, as well as weekend work. I was exhausted. One of my biggest breakthrough moments earlier in the project around a key insight had faded into the background in the frenzy of client deliverables. In fact, it almost got lost – or worse forgotten.

The conference was a wonderful re-calibration and important reminder of how different ideas can be around what constitutes “productive” time. As an anthropologist reflexivity, creative thinking and extended periods of time are how I construct productive uses of time. This is in contrast to the consulting environment I am in where timesheets and an individual’s utilisation are key performance indicators of success. Finding (negotiating?) the happy medium is perhaps one of the key challenges of the applied anthropologist and indeed anyone needing to think creatively in their role.