Time management - Medical Writing

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Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008, ISSN 1854-8466. Time management The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 109 Cover picture Cover photograph from Nadja Meister ([email protected]). Cover motif inspired by Franz Meister. EMWA Executive Committee President: Julia Forjanic Klapproth Trilogy Writing & Consulting GmbH Falkensteiner Strasse 77 60322 Frankfurt am Main, Germany Tel.: (+49) 69 255 39511, Fax.: (+49) 69 255 39499 [email protected] Vice President: Helen Baldwin SciNopsis 16 rue Candolle, 83600 Fréjus, France Tel: (+33) 494 83 90 20, Mobile: (+33) 662 37 91 36 [email protected] Treasurer: Wendy Kingdom 1 Red House Road East Brent, Highbridge Somerset, TA9 4RX, UK Tel: (+44) 1278 769 214, Fax: (+44) 1278 769 214 [email protected] Secretary: Julia Cooper PAREXEL International Ltd. 101-105 Oxford Road Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 1LZ, UK Tel: (+44) 1895 614 403, Fax: (+44) 1895 614 323 [email protected] Public Relations Officer: Kari Skinningsrud Limwric as Leiv Eirikssons gate 8 NO-2004 Lillestrøm, Norway Tel: (+47) 63800448, Mobile: (+47) 41338765 [email protected] Website Manager: Shanida Nataraja Discovery London, Pembroke Building Kensington Village Avonmore Road London W14 8DG, UK Tel.: (+44) 207 173 4121, Fax.: (+44) 207 173 4001 [email protected] Education Officer: Stephen de Looze Accovion GmbH Helfmann-Park 10, D-65760 Eschborn (Frankfurt), Germany Phone: (+49) 6196 7709 312, Fax: : (+49) 6196 7709 114 [email protected] Journal Editor Elise Langdon-Neuner Baxter BioScience Wagramer Strasse 17-19 A-1220 Vienna, Austria Tel.: (+43) 1 20100 2067 Fax.: (+43) 1 20100 525 [email protected] EMWA Head Office Durford Mill, Petersfield, GU31 5AZ, United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0)173 071 5216, Fax: (+44) 870 442 9940 [email protected] EMWA website: www.emwa.org Journal insights TheWrite Stuff is the official publication of the European Medical Writers Association. It is issued 4 times a year and aims to provide EMWA members with relevant, informative and interesting articles and news addressing issues relating to the broad arena of medical writing. We are open to contributions from anyone whose ideas can complement these aims, but opinions expressed in individual articles are those of the authors and are not necessarily those held by EMWA as an association. Articles or ideas should be submitted to the Editor-in-Chief (see below) or another member of the Editorial Board. Subscriptions Subscriptions are included in EMWA membership fees. By writing to [email protected] non-members can subscribe at an annual rate of: • €35 within Europe • €50 outside Europe Instructions for contributors • TheWrite Stuff typically publishes articles of 800–2800 words although longer pieces or those with tables or graphics will be considered. • All articles are subject to editing and revision by the Editorial Board. Any changes will be discussed with the author before publication. • Submissions should include the full address of the author, including the telephone and fax numbers and email address. Suitable quotes for side boxes can be indicated or they can be selected by the Editorial Board. • Material should be submitted by email as an MS Word file using Times New Roman (or equivalent), 10 point size, and single spacing. • Published articles generally include a recent photograph of the author (portrait picture, CV or passport style, min. 360 x 510 pixels). Timelines Month Deadline Deadline distributed for receipt of articles for receipt of adverts March 1st January 15th February June 1st April 15th May September 1st July 15th August December 1st October 15th November Advertising rates (in euros, €) Behind the press Corporate Private / Freelance members only • Full page €1000 • Full page €200 • Half page €500 • Half page €100 The Editorial Board Assistant Editor Barry Drees Copy editing Judi Proctor Chris Priestley Richard Clark Rosalie Rose Ursula Schoenberg Margaret Gray Columnists Alistair Reeves Karen Shashok Alison McIntosh Diana Epstein Françoise Salager-Meyer Joeyn Flauaus Dianthus team The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 110 TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 Upcoming EMWA Conferences 27th EMWA Conference, 20–22 November 2008, London, England The next EMWA Conference is just around the corner and will be held at the Holiday Inn London, Kensington Forum, 97 Cromwell Road, London, UK (www.hikensingtonforumhotel.com). Registration for this event will begin this month and online registration will be available for the first time. The programme offers 20 training workshops and a freelance forum for freelance writers to exchange ideas and experience. In addition, new to the programme this year is a seminar pro- viding GCP training for medical writers. Login to www.emwa.org for further details and to register for this event. 28th EMWA Conference, 26–30 May 2009, Ljubljana, Slovenia The 28th EMWA Conference will have a regulato- ry theme and we will be exploring medical writ- ing in the regulatory domain from many different angles. There will be several new seminars and discussion forum sessions at which you can voice your questions to experienced writers and see how others are tackling similar issues to your own. The conference will be held at the Grand Union Hotel (www.gh-union.si). Both these conferences will provide members with opportunities to continue their training on the EMWA Professional Development Programme. As always, the workshop programmes will cover a wide range of medical writing topics, ranging from clinical protocols to publication planning. There will be training for beginners as well as advanced workshops for experienced writers wishing to keep their knowledge up-to-date and refresh their skills These will be great opportunities to expand your medical writing horizons. So mark these dates in your calendars and plan on joining your colleagues from across Europe at these events. The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 111 From the guest editor’s desk: A telephone conference about 10 years ago with my group around me: I am the head of a productive and committed publishing team in one of the world’s largest pharmaceuti- cal companies, responsible for the ‘European dossier’ on an international project. Things are going well. After a merger, management has moved the central development department outside Germany, as they apparently felt that this would make the company more productive, although no clear reasons have been given. All members of my pub- lishing group—all specialists in their fields—are working at full capacity, as usual. My boss abroad at the other end of the line says, for all to hear: “Higher management wants to go for ‘stretch goals’ on this project”. ‘Stretch goals’ are a mystery to me, but they immediately smack of ‘le citron bien pressé’, so I ‘innocently’ ask: “What do you mean by stretch goals?” The answer is: “That means we set succes- sive goals and then knock off about 20% of the time required for each because everybody has to be prepared to go that extra mile for the good of the project”. My team had already chalked up so many extra miles that they should have been languishing on a beach on a Pacific island with no need to return. Dare I ask the question? I did: “So what you actually mean are unrealistic goals?” I bite my lip nervously in anticipation of the response. Silence from overseas. Visible thumbs up all around in my group. I am thankful this is not a videoconference. As you might imag- ine, this did not endear me to management, and certainly contributed to my becoming a freelance writer and editor in 2002. But being a freelancer did not help me to plan better at first, because I mistakenly thought it would be so much easier being my own boss. I started working on documentation for clinical trials in the pharmaceutical industry in 1976. In the ensuing 32 years, I have worked on only one project that stayed on the sched- ule planned 18 months in advance: the above project. It was the first centralised procedure in Europe at my compa- ny. The reason that it remained on schedule was not because we subscribed to the dubious policy of ‘stretch goals’. No. We had planned everything well in advance, built in buffers, and had an exceptionally responsive man- agement in Europe who realised that we were all commit- ted and knew what we were talking about when we said how long things would take. We did have a couple of set- backs, but we actually finished early in Europe (by 19 days, if I remember correctly), and maintained a humane schedule for all concerned. Our colleagues abroad were 6 weeks late. “Where can we squeeze out another couple of (half-) days?” This was always the statement I dreaded in meet- ings. What it really meant was: how can we push the work- force harder? How do you answer this when your work- force is at full capacity anyway, and your scanning special- ist is just as stressed as your top medical writer or publish- er? And we all know: we are in October, we are talking about ‘squeezing out’ days next January, but by the time November comes, things will probably look very different (because of unresolved questions about those nasal tumours in rats, for example), so why are we wasting time with this sort of question now? Everything—almost always—slips, anyway. Whether you are a freelancer or a salaried employee, you always have to ask: “What are the timelines on this?”, and you are always asked: “By when can you have it ready?” So you have to be a good planner and have a good idea of how long things take. Why does everyone always want everything yesterday? And how often have we broken our back to complete a job, only to find that it laid around in a drawer (20 years ago), or on a hard disk (10 years ago), or on a memory stick (nowadays) for a couple of weeks after you worked until 22:00 several nights running to complete it? The important elements in good planning are honesty with yourself about what you can do, honesty with your staff if you are a manager, being able to represent your staff’s interests when higher management has unrealistic expectations, the confidence that your client is being hon- est with you, and—moreso if you are a freelancer—the ability (and the confidence again) to say no, despite that nagging worry that the client may not come back. I have been a freelance editor and writer for 6 years now. When I started, I had the luxury of a partner in full employ- ment, my children had almost finished university, and the house was nearly paid off, so the end of large financial commitments was in sight. But that still didn’t stop me tak- ing on far too much work for the first few years and work- ing 12-hour days and on weekends, public holidays, and even on ‘holiday’, trying to please everyone. Four years in, I was completely exhausted and decided I had to do some- thing about it, so I took 2 months off and did no work (I realise this is a luxury a lot of people cannot afford, and I had to wait 3 months before my 2 months off could be accommodated in my calendar). Plagued by guilt in the first couple of weeks, I literally did no work for the first time in my life. I told important clients I had other long- Time management—Who manages YOUR time? by Alistair Reeves The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 112 TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 Time management—Who manages YOUR time? term projects, new clients were referred to reliable col- leagues, and I said no to a couple of projects. I thought I had become ‘my own boss’, but I hadn’t: other people were still managing my time and therefore my life. So what was I doing wrong? I am a disciplined worker and am not easily distracted. I used to sit at the PC for 12 hours or more 6 days a week. This was the problem. It took a while for me to admit it to myself, but I was being ‘overconscientious’, to my and my partner’s detriment. So I decided that work was to be done between Monday and Friday from about 08:00 to 17:30, and that was it, and, importantly, that e-mails did not have to be answered immediately. E-mail stress is one of the worst evils of the E-age, especially since it is obvious that your carefully considered responses are often not read properly. And I had to convince myself that I could say no without causing my business endless harm. Two years later, I have fared well despite my self-imposed restrictions and have worked on three weekends and two public holi- days (yes, I have counted!), and have even taken days off during the week to do things I want to do (like learning [again] how to enjoy an hour in a bookshop, or just wan- dering about town, or even just reading the newspaper properly). To meet deadlines, I used to take work to confer- ences and try to sneak in half an hour’s editing before, dur- ing and after workshops, and before social events, usually at an uncomfortable hotel room table with bad lighting and a seat that was too low. I have not done this at the last two EMWA conferences nor at other events for the past two years. I really had to resist not doing it; but all events have been all the more enjoyable for not doing so. At last, some time for a chat with colleagues! Or just sitting for 15 min- utes after lunch watching the world go by. The other thing was how best to say no. I decided never to say no outright, but always to try to find a colleague who could take on a job. And I really do try. Judging by the e- mails and telephone calls I have had with thanks from col- leagues for referrals, I am not always unsuccessful in help- ing colleagues and clients alike. I also stopped taking on jobs that are just too ‘big’, and now stick to ‘smaller docu- ments’ (investigator brochures, study protocols, study reports, patient information sheets, Summaries of Product Characteristics, journal articles, small websites), but no more ambitious things like dossiers, or projects that need coordination across several countries and people. Apart from a couple of hectic, but brief, periods over the past 18 months, I now feel that I am basically managing my time—even though only just. I am still at the beck and call of the client and do my best for them, but I don’t feel that they are at the helm. Like Virginia Watson in this issue, I don’t think I was suf- fering from burnout. I was just chronically tired. This is obviously one of the precursors of burnout and something you should watch out for. If you feel you are close to burnout, Lydia Goutas has plenty of advice in this issue on how to recognise the signs and symptoms, and on the coun- termeasures you can take, including ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’, and even extending to taking a sabbatical. I suppose my 2 months were like a sabbatical, although she has longer in mind. Maybe it would do you good too! What may also do you good is meditation—although I haven’t tried it yet. EMWA’s very own neurophysiologist website manager, Shanida Nataraja, recently published a book enti- tled The Blissful Brain, in which she explores the workings of the brain and the history and benefits of meditation. I need go no further into its contents here because we have a ‘rave review’ in this issue from Helen Baldwin, who says: “I have been meditating regularly for the last year (ed: before she bought Shanida’s book) and I have been aston- ished by the results. I am much happier and less stressed than before: time seems to go more slowly, and I am able to finish my projects faster with less effort!” Because the wish for ‘time to go more slowly’ must be uppermost in all of our minds (and not only so we can do more work!), it sounds like this and many other books on meditation should be on every medical writer’s bookshelf—and should be read! Sometime in the 1990s, companies started setting up whole departments responsible for ‘reverse planning’, as if it were a new discovery and would be the solution to every- thing. I appreciate that preparing a dossier is more complex than preparing a meal for 8 people or planning a week’s cooking—but anyone responsible for feeding a family or planning a large social or sporting event knows that you have to work backwards from a target time (the time your family wants to eat or your guests will arrive, or how many rounds you have), even sometimes several weeks or months hence, to work out your starting time. This is a bal- ancing act par excellence. So there is nothing new about ‘reverse planning’: valiant homemakers have been doing it for centuries. Wendy Kingdom seems to have the business of cooking and providing for her husband and friends under excellent control, and would also have the business of writing under excellent control, if it weren’t for that often incalculable confounding factor: the client. The essence of her advice is: do less so you are able to respond better to changes, and, as a freelancer, don’t be afraid to have breaks of a few days when you have ‘nothing to do’. It takes time, of course, to build up your clients, but again the message is: at the same time, build up the confidence to say no. The word ‘deadline’ hangs over the head of every manag- er, writer and editor in our business. We can be glad that ‘deadline’ has lost its original meaning, which is explained by Ursula Schoenenberg in a light-hearted look at the term in this issue. She does, however, more seriously caution that deadlines are viewed differently by different cultures, and candidly identifies three ‘personality types’ by the way they respond to deadlines. Which type are you? A truly frequently asked question is “How long does it take to write a …. (document)?” It is also frequently answered, > > > The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 113 Time management—Who manages YOUR time? > > > and often unsatisfactorily. I can still remember 5-page study protocols and 25-page study reports with hardly any appendices, but study reports (and almost all the docu- ments we deal with) have now turned into vastly complex documents prepared by a large team of specialists, some- times with hundreds of thousands of pages, often with an astonishing network of electronic cross-references. Several contributors to this issue have looked at this question from different angles. There seems to be general agreement now that there are low-complexity, medium-complexity and high-complexity assignments, that these degrees of com- plexity have blurred boundaries, and that it is not possible to account for all possible confounding factors. This means that it is easy to get into a real mess if you don’t plan prop- erly. ‘Can’t you just put more people on the job?’—anoth- er comment from management I used to dread. In this issue of TWS, Stephen de Looze passes on a distillation of the wisdom he has gained from 20 years as a manager of a medical writing group, first in a leading pharmaceutical company, and later working for a contract research organi- sation. It is packed full of sound advice on how to approach managing resources on multiple projects, each with their own shifting timelines. This article—longer than usually accepted for TWS—should be compulsory reading for all writers and managers of medical writers—and also for the bosses of medical writing managers. Why not casually deposit a copy on your boss’s desk? Sam Hamilton reports on an EMWA workshop she runs on writing proposals, study protocols and clinical study reports (CSRs) from the time-management point of view. She presents some interesting results on the participants’ experience of how long these activities take, like ‘first draft of CSR to final CSR, including review in 6–100 days’. Most of us will be used to fairly high two-digit time-spans for reports (and perhaps we should keep quiet about the 6 days so we don’t give our bosses ideas: a dream figure if ever I saw one!). Inadequate coordination of review cycles is often the problem; they can be the bane of our lives as writers and can be very disruptive to timelines. How often do you not get the promised ‘consolidated comments’, but 10 e-mails with contradictory comments in each attached 150-page document? While I was working as a salaried employee, a German physician colleague of mine, herself an excellent writer, always asked with a twinkle: “Is this the ‘final’ review cycle, or is it the ‘absolutely bloody final’ review cycle?” Needless to say, she refreshingly stuck keenly to any timelines set (a rare beast in our business)— we knew where we stood with her. Christoph Pfannmüller answers some questions on what it is like to manage a high volume of medical writing and publishing projects in a division of a large Germany-based pharmaceutical company. His company mainly uses a pre- ferred partner for medical writing and has in-house pub- lishing, and he spends his days mediating between external writers and internal specialists vying for priorities and set- ting up and (sometimes almost daily) revising project ‘route maps’ to meet submission deadlines. Christoph has three wishes that he thinks would make life much easier; two are in the realms of Utopia, but I am sure that one relat- ed to ICH E3 has occurred to many of us already. Andrea Rossi has the dilemma that he is expected to write and manage publications and congress contributions amongst a huge range of other documents for a multina- tional pharmaceutical company in Italy. This requires a degree of flexibility and patience that his colleagues in other departments do not always appreciate. Everyone wants to be served first, especially when a conference is looming: suddenly, everybody’s abstract becomes the most important and everyone wants to claim Andrea’s time. But it wasn’t planned that way! Debbie Jordan provides us with practical advice on plan- ning your year (yes—your year! And you do need to), your week, and your day—for freelancers and salaried employ- ees alike. Have you heard of the 2-hour rule? If not, take a look at what she has to say in this issue—a simple device to make your life easier. Salaried writers should take heed of her advice and use this in discussions with management. And the 2-hour rule is not a bad idea for freelancers either. I asked Thomas Mondrup to tell us about a typical working week as a medical writer for an international biotechnology company in Denmark, and tell us how, by Friday, he had managed to fulfil his aims for the week set on Monday. He decided to apply the ABC task system he had learned at Debbie Jordan’s time-management workshop in Barcelona. The problem is that the C tasks keep encroach- ing on the B tasks, and the B tasks on the A tasks, and sud- denly, you have more A tasks than you can handle, with lit- tle hope of downgrading them. Also, your C task is a col- league’s A task, providing great potential for conflict! After a 16-hour working day on Monday, things seemed to be going well on Tuesday (despite receiving three sets of unconsolidated comments on three clinical study reports), but Wednesday had some unplanned surprises. By Thursday, he had banned all statisticians and programmers from his office so he could just get on with his work, and actually managed to get away from work ‘early’ and enjoy a barbecue with family and friends. On Friday he didn’t get away until about 20:00 because of the late arrival of more comments. This was followed by a busy private weekend, with the prospect of a similarly hectic week ahead. Sound familiar? After all this talk about too little time: what do you do when you have too much time? Short periods of ‘inactivi- ty’, which do occur sometimes, both for freelancers and salaried employees, should not make you feel lazy or guilty. Jack Aslanian shares his thoughts with us on such periods, which often fill themselves with those ‘jobs’ you have put off, but still have to be done, like clearing out those 2,253 e-mails in your inbox. Or sometimes work itself tends to expand into the time available (at last you have time to research that term properly, or make a start on Received any dog-eared e-mails recently? Credit: Photo model Pheobe. Photographer Gabi Berghammer The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 114 TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 Time management—Who manages YOUR time? working through that ever-growing pile of interesting papers). Nor should you be guilty about telling a client or colleague that you really will need 2 weeks to edit their paper, even though the actual time spent editing will prob- ably be only 15 hours. This is because you have other proj- ects, need time to think, and need some time to let the piece of work ‘lie’ so you come back to it afresh because you want to deliver a good product. Jack reaches an interesting conclusion on ‘What’ as opposed to ‘Who’ should be man- aging our time—a concept which we all know very well— but I will let you discover what it is by reading his article. Stefan Lang continues his report on setting up as a free- lancer in this issue in the Out on our Own section, also focussing on time management. And John Carpenter, who has been an enthusiastic medical and scientific communi- cator and a freelancer for many years, actually admits that he is thinking of ‘slowing down’ (What is that?), but almost in the same breath tells us that he would take on a full-time job again if it paid well enough and ‘stretched my knowl- edge, experience and skills to their limits’. Looks like another one amongst us who will never really ‘slow down’! Nancy Milligan brings us welcome relief from the pres- sures of time in Journal watch. In this issue, she focuses on papers she has found on the importance of guidelines when reporting on medical research and the adequacy of treat- ment descriptions in manuscripts (with the astonishing sta- tistic that in 80 papers reviewed, only 39 described the treatment given well enough to enable other clinicians to apply it without asking for more information). A paper on the effect of the online availability of journal articles on citations also makes interesting reading. This issue also sees the second part of Françoise Salager-Meyer’s article on medical book reviews where she examines how the crit- ical voice or ‘rhetorical persona’ of the book reviewer has changed over time, with examples from the mid-20th Century, when reviewers were often merciless in their crit- icism—but not without humour—and said quite directly ‘Don’t buy this dreadful book’, and the closing years of the 20th Century, by which time a greater degree of objectivity had come to prevail. Back to time management: our webscout has been on the lookout for tips from the Internet. Joeyn Flauaus has found good advice, including ten tips from a blog and a worth- while video with a presenter who says that time must be managed as carefully as money. A good principle: but as we know, clients are not infrequently as fickle as the stock market. So do your best! As usual, we can find sound advice elsewhere in the non- scientific literature about the value of our deeds and whether it is worth pushing yourself to your limits. And where better than in Shakespeare? In Troilus and Cressida (Act 3 , Scene 3), Achilles has done heroic deeds in battle and is distraught that Ajax, described elsewhere as a lubber (lazy fellow), is getting all the credit for them. Ulysses has good advice for him (which Achilles did not heed, by the way!): Achilles: … they [the Grecian Lords] pass’d by me/As misers do by beggars, neither gave to me/Good word nor look: what, are my deeds forgot? Ulysses: Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,/Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,/A great-sized monster of ingratitudes:/Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour’d/As fast as they are made, forgot as soon/As done. This may sound rather pessimistic and not encouraging: the wallet of time is greedy; it relentlessly gobbles up your time; some of us don’t get many thanks for all our efforts; and basically good deeds are forgotten, although there may be some momentary glory. But this reflects the harsh real- ity of many peoples’ working situations. I hope that this salutary message from antiquity via the 17th Century and all the good 21st Century advice you will find in this issue will alert you to the importance of making the most of this vital (in the truest sense of the word) aspect of your profession- al and private lives: take control of YOUR time. Trite and hackneyed: you only have it once. And it is one of the few things that belong only to YOU. Alistair Reeves Guest editor [email protected] www.ascribe.de Time. It’s something that nobody in today’s technological- ly developed world has enough of. While it is undeniable that technology has made things possible we could never have conceived of previously, it also hinders us in ways we could never have imagined. Just take mail as an example of how technology turned a simple means of communication into a potentially time destroying beast. If you think about it, previously, an average working person on an average day (i.e. not a superstar or politician) would have received a few letters by normal mail. And that was it. There was no other form of mail. And often, a working person who was in a position to be receiving mail probably also had an assistant who filtered the mail for them. So on any given day, that person would only have to deal with a few com- munications. Now consider today’s state of mail. We con- tinue to get the regular mail. But e-mail has taken over life. Ignoring spam mail, a working person can get a hundred or more e-mails a day. And very few of us still have the luxu- ry of having an assistant to filter those mountains of mail. We are expected to read, process, respond, and file all of these e-mails by ourselves. And due to the immediacy of the technology, if you haven’t replied within a day, senders begin assuming something is wrong! The time needed each day just to process mail has gotten out of control before we even begin to do a minute of productive work. Other demons possessing the industry and turning it into a frightening reality are share holder value and management bonuses. These two things lead executive level managers to invent timelines driven by the timing of dividend pay- outs or management performance goals rather than the humanly feasible. As a result, the expectations of what an individual, let alone a team, are meant to achieve or pro- duce are moving into the realm of the absurd. Each time I work on a project for which the timelines have been dictat- ed by upper management, I recognise a sickening trend. By helping the teams I work with meet those gruelling time- lines, we are setting precedents for future teams. The ridiculous timelines we met by the skin of our teeth and a considerable lack of sleep become new goals for executive level managers to beat. Ultimately, by meeting timelines that are verging on the inhumane (because of the need to work around the clock 7 days a week, sometimes for 2 to 3 weeks at a time), we are supporting an industry-wide trend to push timeline expectations beyond the achievable. Clearly, however, not all is as bleak as it may sound. There are some people who manage to get more done in a day than others, regardless of the fact that they are faced with the same beasts and demons as the rest of us. So the ques- tion is, how do they do it? This issue of The Write Stuff focuses on just that question. How can we manage time to make it work for us instead of against us? Or, at a very min- imum, how can we squeeze a little more into a working day without cutting into the non-working day? These are ques- tions that relate to all of us, and a few tips on how to opti- mise our time management can never be a bad idea. Speaking of managing time… make sure you mark 20–22 November this year in your calendars for the upcoming conference in London. In response to requests from our members, we are adding a new seminar to our programme. This will be a training session on GCP issues for medical writers for anyone out there who needs to provide a certifi- cate of continued training in GCP to an auditor. The full programme for this conference will be available on the website by September. So be sure to check in then to find out what else is on offer and register early so you are sure to get a place in the sessions you are interested in. I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming conference. And until then, may time be on your side. Julia Forjanic Klapproth Trilogy Writing &Consulting Frankfurt am main, Germany [email protected] Message from the President The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 115 by Julia Forjanic Klapproth A new Medical Translation section for TWS! Following the great success of the medical writing theme of the EMWA conference in Barcelona this spring a new medical translation section is being scheduled for TWS. I would be delighted if anyone interested in con- tributing ideas, articles, boxes with tidbits of practical information, dictionary or website reviews, terminology, etc. would contact me. Gabi Berghammer [email protected] The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 116 TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 Introduction to EMWA’s new Head Office As one of the key contact people for you at your new head office, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and MCI to you. Your new head office team is made up of four members of staff, all based in MCI’s Petersfield office in the UK. Our close-knit team benefits from a variety of experience and we will be applying the combined knowl- edge we have in the association world and events indus- try to the running of EMWA. We have been working as your head office for just over two months now and have already had the opportunity to meet most members of the Executive Committee and to speak with many EMWA members on the telephone. Our experience so far has been very positive and we feel that members have welcomed us into the association. We’d like to thank you all for your patience during the transi- tion period and hope that the service we provide will be up to the standard EMWA expects and deserves. We are looking forward to the next few months and the opportunity to meet many of you at the London Conference. This will be a period of continued learning for us and we expect that after organising our first confer- ence with you, we will begin to settle in fully to our role as your head office. We are keen to hear your feedback on all matters, as this helps us to maintain EMWA as an asso- ciation run by and for its members. So I want to thank those of you who completed the Executive Committee’s Member Satisfaction Survey. I am sure the feedback we receive from this will help guide us in supporting you in the future. Kelly Taws, MCI [email protected] From left to right: Jenna Hornett (Project Manager), Julia Phillips (Programme Manager), Kelly Taws (Project Manager) and Eila Macneish (Project Co-ordinator). Call for nominations for executive committee positions The following positions will be up for election at the 2009 Annual General Meeting: Vice President, Treasurer, Public Relations Officer, Education Officer, and Honorary Secretary. This is an early announcement to give you plenty of time to consider whether you would like to nominate yourself or if there is somebody else you wish to nominate for one of the posts. Each position has an important function in the organisa- tion. In addition, as a member of the executive committee (EC), you or your nominee will be involved in the deci- sion-making process behind the scenes. EC membership is an opportunity to contribute your ideas and help form the future of EMWA. Any EMWA member can be nominated for the position of Treasurer or Public Relations Officer. For the position of Education Officer, candidates must have served on the EMWA Professional Development Committee. For the Vice Presidency, the candidate must have served on the EC or represented EMWA in an official capacity in the last 5 years. Nominations can be given to Head Office or any current EC member no later than 1 February 2009. Candidates will need to prepare a written summary about why they feel suited for the position, which will be pub- lished in the March 2009 issue of The Write Stuff. This is an opportunity to get involved in the medical writ- ing community. Being on the EC is a good way to gain management skills and it looks great on your CV. So think about the idea and start nominating. Julia Forjanic Klapproth President EMWA [email protected] The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 117 Coming soon: Important ghostwriting survey for EMWA members Some EMWA members may remember participating in a survey that asked about whether medical writers who contributed to publications were acknowledged, in accordance with guidelines by EMWA and other bodies on transparency of medical writers’ contributions. The survey was done in 2005, shortly after the EMWA guide- lines were published. We are keen to know whether practice has changed in the intervening 3 years, and we will therefore be repeating the survey in the period 13–25 November this year. All EMWA and AMWA (American Medical Writers Association) members will be invited to participate, and it is important that we have a good response rate if the results are to be meaningful. All EMWA members will receive an email with the details of the survey nearer the time, so please keep a close eye on your inboxes in November. Adam Jacobs Cindy Hamilton Leader of EMWA's ghostwriting task force President AMWA [email protected] [email protected] Themes of upcoming issues of TWS The December issue of TWS will have the theme 'con- trol/policing' with articles on image manipulation, confi- dentiality, ethics committees, screening for plagiarism, medical writing metrics, SOPs for medical writers and much more. The March 2009 issue will have a regulatory writing theme. This issue will be guest edited by Sam Hamilton ([email protected]). Articles (up to 2500 words) and boxes (up to 1000 words) in line with these themes or on any topics of interest to medical writers or of interest to editors, trans- lators, language teachers and linguists working in the medical field are very welcome. In addition I would be pleased to receive contributions for a future feature in TWS on the lost art of science writ- ing. Examples of the style used to report science in the past would also be welcome. Elise Langdon-Neuner [email protected] Shaping EMWA's future EMWA is an association run by its members, for its members. To make sure EMWA stays that way and to help us shape EMWA's future, the Executive Committee is always seeking ways to gather the opinions of as many members as possible. With this aim, we recently per- formed a survey to determine the level of member satis- faction with EMWA and to ensure that members are well represented in all of EMWA’s diverse activities. The sur- vey was anonymous, and the results were compiled by an independent body (Survey Monkey). We would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. Your opinions matter and our association will only continue to evolve and improve to meet your needs if you tell us which areas you are happy with and which areas need attention. All participants were given the chance to enter into a prize draw to win either one year’s free EMWA member- ship or a €120 Amazon voucher. The prize draw was organised using a separate online service with no risk of compromising the anonymous nature of the survey. EC and EPDC officers were not eligible to enter the prize draw. The name of the winner will appear on EMWA’s website by the end of September 2008. Full details of the results of the survey will appear in the December 2008 issue of The Write Stuff. The difference a hyphen can make Treatment was randomly assigned to test fields on the back. Without a hyphen between ‘test-fields’, ‘to test’ above is read as an infinitive, and the reader has to backtrack and think how to understand this sentence. With a hyphen: Treatment was randomly assigned to test-fields on the back, the meaning is immediately clear, because you turn ‘test-fields’ into a compound noun. This would also be solved by adding the number of test fields: Treatment was randomly assigned to 12 test fields on the back. And then you don’t need to hyphenate. Alistair Reeves [email protected] There is one area of my life in which I am so organised I amaze myself. Our meals at home are planned on a week- ly basis and I shop just once a week. I check my diary to see when I will have time to cook and when I need to take something out of the freezer, or if I don’t need to cook at all. I also have a little red book of what is in the freezer so that I can see if I need to use something up (or throw it away). This approach to shopping and cooking saves time because I don’t have to rush out to the supermarket mid- week for a vital ingredient, it saves money because I only buy what I need, and our meals have variety and are healthy because I look at our menus for the week as a whole. The rest of my life is a shambles. Have you heard of Nigella Lawson? She published a book called Nigella Express [1] and presented a series of cook- ery programmes based on the recipes in the book. Watching Nigella is always a delight because she doesn’t just cook food, she somehow seems to have a relationship with it. Anyway, the principle of the express part of the title is that, for example, instead of peeling, crushing and frying garlic in olive oil, you use olive oil infused with garlic. This means that Nigella’s larder is about the size of my house, but that is not the point. After watching a couple of these programmes, I came to the conclusion that the real time-saving comes from the fact that she doesn’t do any washing up. We watch her waltz out of the kitchen leaving behind a sink full of used pots and pans, food spilled on the work surface, a jug of apple juice left out of the fridge (a jug?), and abandoned kitchen gadgets dripping with chocolate sauce. So, while we watch Nigella pouting at herself in the mirror and brushing out her luscious brown hair in preparation for the arrival of her guests, the rest of us would still be in the kitchen in our aprons and rubber gloves, desperately trying to clean up before people arrive. What does any of this have to do with medical writing? Well, possibly nothing at all, but I believe that there are quite a few analogies between medical writing and cooking. As medical writers it is important that we allow sufficient time for the stuff that is not project (chargeable) work—the washing-up. The amount of stuff that you have to do will vary according to your job, but my stuff includes dealing with what has been done (e.g. filling in timesheets, gener- ating invoices, logging payments, banking cheques), deal- ing with future work (e.g. responding to requests for pro- posals, reviewing contracts and negotiating changes), and the unexpected (e.g. writing an article on time management for TWS). It is easy to spend an hour replying to an e-mail from a client if you need to take care about your wording. In my experience, this stuff takes an average of two hours per day. Since we are all knowledgeable about the principles of time management, we set aside two hours every day, or one day every week, and we deal with our stuff in this time. We allow the time for this stuff when we agree timelines and we make sure that the duration of elapsed time from start- ing materials received to first draft delivered takes account of a working day that includes only five to six hours of chargeable time. This is why we are calm, organised, and we work a set number of hours per week. Does this sound like your life? I know that it isn’t anything like mine. The first problem that causes our time management to go horribly wrong is when timelines change. We all know about this problem, so there’s no need to dwell on the point. They are just part of life, and we have to learn to work with them. However, I believe that our problems arise not because timelines change, but because so few of our clients think to tell us in advance and to discuss the new timelines with us. If you invite someone to your home for a meal, you can be confident that they will turn up on the right day and at the agreed time, give or take half an hour. They will then get the food you planned, prepared in the way you intended, served hot (assuming this was the intention), and that you will enjoy it together. If your guests arrive an hour late, the food will be somewhat spoiled. If they arrive a day late, the food will be in the dog. However, in normal life, if your guests arrive late, they would apologise and would happily accept a compromise suggestion to get a take-away or go out to eat. I have not yet had the experience of anyone turn- ing up on the wrong day, nor have I done this myself—yet. In work life, our guests don’t seem to think it matters whether they turn up on time, a bit late, a day late, or even a few weeks after the date and time that you agreed. Long after you have given up on them, they send you an e-mail announcing the date that they will arrive, and that date could be today. Not only that, but when they do turn up, A recipe for chaos: Medical writing, time management, and cooking for friends The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 118 TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 by Wendy Kingdom > > > The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association TheWrite Stuff Vol. 17, No. 3, 2008 119 A recipe for chaos: Medical writing, time management, and cooking for friends > > > they take it for granted that we will rustle up something tasty. If you’re lucky, you are free on the new date but if not, you have to work out what you can prepare using the food that you already have, and how to fit everyone round the table because a different set of guests have also arrived. Not a sophisticated dinner party as planned; more of a Mad Hatter’s tea party1. If it were only the occasional client who behaved in this way, we could be firm with them and explain that they have missed their time slot. Unfortunately, most clients do not keep to their own time- lines so if we want to stay in business, we just have to do the best that we can. There is, however, a limit to what doing our best can include. I think that there is a window of opportunity of about two weeks during which clients can provide starting materials late without causing too many problems. When starting materials or comments are a day late, you can chase up the client and you might be given a new date. You can chase again after the new date is missed and maybe you’ll get another new date or possibly just a vague response. However, eventually, there comes a point at which if the client hasn’t sent you something by now, there’s no way of guessing when it might turn up—or if it’s going to turn up at all. By the time the materials or comments do arrive, you have moved on, and your timetable is full of other work. You then have to try and find a space for the work in a peri- od of time that is already seriously overcrowded. There is a trend for timelines to be shortened, which makes it all the more difficult when clients forget to tell us when the timelines change. Medical writing is hard work. If you are working on a document, then working is exactly what you are doing. Keeping the numbers simple, we can expect a 40-hour project to take 6 or 7 working days, allowing time for the other stuff. When timelines become com- pressed, you can’t do the work in fewer hours, you just have to fit the same number of working hours into fewer days. There comes a point at which there are no more wak- ing hours in the day. Working through the night won’t help because you will start writing rubbish, and what will you do the next day when you haven’t had enough sleep? Can we do the work more efficiently? I don’t think that we can because a document cannot be finished until it is com- plete, i.e. until you have incorporated information from every publication that came up in the literature search, you have described and discussed everything that was meas- ured, you have ticked every statistical table, figure and list- ing off your list, you have summarised every study, etc. Most of the time we are working to regulatory or publica- tion guidelines. If you haven’t done something about everything in those guidelines, the document is not fi - nished. If you want to make a cake, you have to include all of the ingredients in the correct proportions and in the cor- rect order, and you have to bake it in the oven until it is cooked, otherwise you will end up with something that can- not legally be described as a cake and is probably inedible. Have you ever tried to prepare vegetables, grate cheese, stir a sauce and whip cream all at the same time? It’s impossi- ble—unless you can get someone to help. In the same way, medical writing is not something that can be multi-tasked. You can make a phone call and talk about more than one project, you can send an e-mail and contact several people at once, you can attend a meeting and, well, do nothing at all really. You can save time in all of these tasks by prepar- ing in advance, not chatting on the phone, excusing your- self from parts of a meeting that are not relevant to you, or by surreptitiously sending e-mails during a meeting by using a d...

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