Investing in productivity tools (Kerryn O’Rourke)

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

At a recent event, doctoral researcher Kerryn O'Rourke mentioned some of the strategies she uses to get herself organised for her research work. This week we invited Kerryn to share with us a tool that works for her, and she has chosen the Productivity Planner. In this (not sponsored!!) post, Kerryn shares how and why it works for her. 

If any other members of our research community have a tool you'd like to review on the RED Alert please get in touch with us. 

Approaching my final year of PhD candidature, I felt the need to seriously up my productivity.

While going down an internet vortex is usually not so productive, this time I came up with this ripper of a book: the Productivity Planner, by Intelligent Change.
What I like about it is that it integrates all the best advice on how to be productive:
  • Write a to-do list of 3-5 tasks per day.
    This is a really good one for me as I’m inclined to overshoot on expectations and not feel satisfied at the end of a day. I’m learning that less is more. Feeling successful at the end of a day spurs me on for the next and helps me relax in between (that has to be a win-win!)
  • Start with the most important task.
    THIS is SO important! This was my biggest productivity trap. I sabotage writing time by “getting all the fiddly admin done first”. And then the day is gone. There is always admin, there are always emails. Making myself do the most important task first when I had precious writing time during C19 lockdown and kids’ home learning and yadda yadda, just got me a paper drafted!
  • Work on only one task at a time (really).
    I can’t claim to have hit this goal very often, but I feel pretty steady and clear when I do.
  • Work in 25 minute sessions (the Pomodoro technique).
    YES, DO Shut Up and Write. Join the LTU groups, online groups or DIY. I even had my kids doing it during home learning (For the Shut Up bit mostly, haha!).
  • Use breaks effectively (like stretch, dance, chat, but not check Instragram).
    Yes, you’re in charge of your breaks (And I am too now that my kids have gone back to school).
  • Track time and your use of it (there are little boxes to colour in).
  • Score your productivity each day.
    This seems to build in some reflection that I think is always helpful. Setting intentions and then reflecting at the end 'book-ends' the day and/or week. Then off time is really off time.
Aside from all the productivity hacks, it has lovely paper, is beautifully bound, and peppered with (not too many) inspiring quotes from famous (and mostly likely productive) people. Here's some of them to get you thinking:
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. RUMI
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. ARTHUR ASHE
Fall seven times, stand up eight. JAPANESE PROVERB
I highly recommend this tool to other researchers who are keen to boost their productivity.


Kerryn O’Rourke is a PhD candidate in the Judith Lumley Centre, evaluating Australia’s first doula support program for women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, provided by Birth for Humankind. Kerryn is using Realist Evaluation methodology and co-convenes the Melbourne Realist Research Group, an informal learning network of realist evaluators from all Melbourne universities and some of consulting groups.

Kerryn has a long work history in public health, specifically health promotion practice, policy and research that promotes health equity. She is a graduate of the Victorian Public Health Training Scheme, and holds a Master of Health Sciences (Public Health Practice) from La Trobe University, a Master of Public Health (International Health) from Monash University, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Health Promotion from Curtin University, and Bachelor of Nursing from the University of Canberra.