1. Get more done in the lab. That's a pretty generic one, but it gets harder to do the further on you go in your career. At the point I've reached, I could spend a good amount of my time hiding out in my office, banging away on the computer, and no one would be the wiser. No one including me, unfortunately, which is why I need to resist doing that when there's something more useful available.
2. Clean up my hood. I have piles of junk in there now, and while I can work around it, there's no reason to. I'd be more comfortable - and who knows, maybe even more productive - with some of it cleared out. The lab bench needs some pruning, too, since there's stuff there from three projects ago with months of dust on it. Out it goes.
3. Get more done in the office. What with number 1, that doesn't leave me much room to maneuver, does it? What I mean is to do the office work I need to do, without using the lab as a place to hang out and procrastinate. Perhaps these two resolutions could be combined into a broader one, a researcher's version of Kant's Categorical Imperative: to use both sides of my job as ends in themselves, not as means to avoid each other.
4. Go out on more limbs. This is another thing that I can afford to do at this point, and I should do it more often. I have some opportunities to try low-percentage high-reward ideas. Not everyone does - if I've got a special function, that's probably it. ("Bothering people" doesn't count, I'm pretty sure).
I can think of an example that touches on all of these simultaneously. Long-time readers will recall my occasional series on a research project I've been working on for the last two or three years. It's the very definition of a high-risk high-reward idea, and one of my better moments in 2005 was finally getting it to work a little bit. It's been somewhat stalled the last two or three months, though, partly by factors out of my control.
But partly not. I haven't been pushing the stuff as hard as I should have been, either. And I don't hesitate to diagnose fear as the cause. You've probably heard that line about how to travel hopefully is better than to arrive - well, it's not true if you've chosen your destination wisely. But it does show how it's easier to stay in the almost-done state rather than reach a resolution. After all, what if I'm wrong? What if the effect I've seen can't be generalized to anything useful, and I've worked myself up over a triviality? Isn't it better to stay where I am, where I can still think that I'm on to something?
Well, no, it isn't. But I need to keep reminding myself of that, and not look for excuses when it comes time for another key experiment. And that's my advice to the part of my readership that does research for a living: take some risks in 2006. I'm going to. Let's discover something for a change.