I’m Michelle Martel, Associate Professor of Psychology, and This is How I Work

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My name is Dr. Michelle Martel, and I am a tenured associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kentucky and a licensed child and adolescent clinical psychologist who works part-time in private practice and consults at a local hospital adolescent in-patient unit. I live in Lexington, Kentucky. I like to stay busy with both research and clinical work which I see as mutually informative in their roles of helping people in an applied way. I have a busy schedule, given all of my different roles, so it is very important to me to be efficient.

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Current Gig: Associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kentucky; licensed child and adolescent clinical psychologist.

Current computer/mobile device: My iPhone and Asus laptop home computer are crucial. I also have a Microsoft Surface tablet with a detachable keyboard for doing work when I travel.

What is your work style like? And how do you keep track of things you need to do (any to-do-list apps)?

My workstyle is probably best described as fairly old-fashioned. I still keep a small research notebook, specifically a Five Start personal wirebound notebook, that I keep in my computer bag and carry with me almost everywhere I go for catching any promising ideas and keeping a to-do list. I also heavily rely on the calendar and notes applications on my iPhone in which I keep urgent to-do items (e.g., grant due to university staff today) and notes that I need to have easily accessible (e.g., psychiatry recommendations that I might need to reference in a therapy session). I make sure to note on my calendar any important deadlines by adding an all-day event with the to-do item listed that I can delete once completed. Frankly, many days I feel could probably not survive without the calendar application on my phone since this is where I keep track of meetings, client sessions, teaching times, etc. It definitely helps me to have all upcoming events and deadlines in one place! I also have a flashdisk I carry with me in my purse at all times on which I back up any substantial work I am doing at home, at work, or at the clinic. This item is as important as my car keys!

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

My best life hacks are my to-do lists and efficient scheduling. I have one major to-do list I keep in my research notebook that has all major upcoming tasks listed under different categories (e.g., grant-related, articles, clinical, teaching, miscellaneous), prioritized within category with any relevant deadlines noted. When I send a product out to a collaborator, I put a note by the to-do item and then note a date by which I need to follow up so tasks do not fall off my radar. In addition to this main to-do list, I also note major upcoming deadlines on my phone calendar application as a secondary system for making sure I do not forget to complete anything (as I described above). A second life hack in which I firmly believe is efficient scheduling of activities. For example, in my case, events at the same location need to be scheduled back to back to minimize walking and driving time. I also think it is important to try to complete short tasks in a short time frame. That is, I think it is vital not let a 10-minute process note take 30 minutes or drag out for weeks. In a similar fashion, I have a 30-40 minute cut off for completing journal reviews. I estimate how much time I need to complete most task before I start on them, and then – barring exceptional circumstances – try not to let tasks take (much) longer than their allotted times.

What’s your workspace set up like?

Similar to my old-fashioned work style, my workspace is a traditional office set-up. I find it inspiring to have a lot of books nearby, both at work and in my home office. Having a good paperback book near at hand at all times is something I cannot do without, for my personal sanity. In the case of a no-show client or time between meetings, I need to have something to read for my peace of mind.

What do you listen to while you work?

Sometimes, I work to electronic dance music (EDM), but I can work through pretty much any background noise, unless I am sitting directly in front of the television.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Sapiens: A brief history of humankind by Harari, The Book of Life by Harkness, and Fall of Giants by Follett. It is pretty typical for me to be reading at least three different books in three different genres at the same time; this makes it less disappointing when I reach the end of a good book! Maybe because I read so much, I can read and write much faster than most people. In addition, I consider my organization system (described above) to be an important skill that enhances my productivity.

How do you recharge? How do you balance your work life and your home/family life?

Personal reading, hanging out with my husband, preferably over a good meal, and travelling to places off the beaten path (e.g., Japan, New Zealand) is how I like to recharge. I also like going to the salon to have my hair or nails done. The only domestic task I like doing is cleaning so anytime I can get someone else to doll me up or cook for me, I am a happy camper! I am still working on work/family balance, but I am 33 weeks pregnant so I suspect I will have to get better at that soon! Currently, I have an informal rule that I do not work after 8 pm or on the weekends, unless I want to. I also sometimes put up my email message around holidays, etc. to ensure I have some kind of staycation/time off when I just need a breather.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

There are 3 pieces of advice I received back in graduate school that I consider to be vital to my life now and which I think about on almost a daily basis. The first piece of advice is that learning to say no may be the most important professional skill a person will ever learn. Despite what some people may tell you, it is almost impossible to do everything and, in particular, to do everything well. For your sanity, learn to say no to responsibilities that are not your cup of tea or that do not excite and/or inspire you, when you can, at least!

Second, I often remind myself – for tasks I cannot get out of by saying no – that done is better than perfect. Sometimes the bare minimum is, in fact, sufficient, or even better than perfection. For me, journal article reviews, class lectures, and therapy session preparation all fall into this category. You could prepare forever for these tasks, but – in my experience – past a certain point, you will receive diminishing returns for additional time spent on these tasks.

Finally, it is important to make time for, or — in some cases — schedule, any task that is important to you. I started doing this with my research time in graduate school. In a clinical program, it was too easy to go weeks without doing research (due to class and clinical responsibilities) otherwise. However, in recent years, I’ve started to believe that it is also important to schedule self care for yourself, even outside of family time. This could involve splurging on a special type of tea, coffee, or dessert at the grocery store to treat yourself after a hard day, going out for happy hour drinks with friends or colleagues on Friday evening after a hard week, scheduling a spa day after a tough semester, and/or scheduling a yearly vacation. Ideally, you will have various self care rituals built into your life on a daily, monthly, seasonal, and yearly basis. If you don’t make self care a priority, no one else is going to make sure it happens. And my experience has been that, if I don’t take care of myself, me and everyone around me, including my work, suffers. You will very likely be more productive if you make, or even schedule, time off to take care of yourself!

Michelle Martel

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