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6 tips to keeping motivated during a lengthy systematic review

Stay motivated during your review with these tips from Covidence

Completing a systematic review is a significant undertaking. They require focus, dedication, and a backpack full of motivation. The sheer scale of what lies ahead can sometimes be daunting. But it’s a challenge that can be conquered by sticking to the right path and staying motivated. Of course, at times, that’s easier said than done. 

At Covidence, we know just how hard it is to stay at your peak, week after week. After all, once you’ve reviewed your thousandth reference, you probably never want to see another one again. To give you a helping hand, we asked our team how they managed to keep motivated during their own systematic reviews. They gave these following 6 tips: 

1. Remember the big picture

As you trudge through the review, it can be easy to lose your way. At some stage, most people reach a point where the next step feels like it will take more effort than they can summon. If you find yourself running on empty, take some time to remember why you began your trek in the first place. Remind yourself what you set out to achieve. Whether you’re heavily invested in the end goal or just enjoy the journey itself, focus on the bigger picture for a moment. Feel the motivation return.

2. Break the journey down into manageable parts

You don’t just turn up in Nepal, climb Everest, and go home. There are stages to go through—the long hike to base camp, acclimatization, ascending the icefall, to name a few. Every single one is a milestone to celebrate. It’s the same with a systematic review. When you register your protocol, your preparations are complete. Once you identify the relevant publications, the journey has begun. Recognize those moments for what they are; each brings you closer to your goal.

3. Keep track of how far you’ve come

Sometimes the best way to stay motivated for the journey ahead is to look back to see how far you’ve come. Every task, every review you’ve completed is a necessary step. One of the most popular features on the Covidence platform is the ‘tracking progress’ page, in which users can watch the number of articles they’ve screened grow. Maybe even set yourself little targets to achieve—twenty-five before you grab a coffee; forty before lunch. Finally, embrace the moment when the number left to review is lower than the number you’ve already completed. You’re more than halfway.

Fig 1. Screenshot of team progress within Covidence platform

4. Engage in some friendly competition

If you’re working as part of a team, a little competition can go a long way towards lifting your morale. It’s an opportunity to compare your performance—something tools like Covidence make simple to do. Working together like this will give you a little push—perhaps even when you need it most. It’s also a chance to recognize how well others are doing. So, take the opportunity to share your colleagues’ wins and allow them to be a part of yours. 

5. Take regular breaks

Being chained to a desk for hours on end is not exactly what our bodies were designed for. In fact, excessive sitting significantly increases the risk of a number of chronic conditions. Make a point of getting up every hour and moving around. It will help you stay healthy and will also improve your focus. After all, there’s only so long you can stare at a screen before your mind starts to wander.  

6. Let technology be your guide

Using technology where it makes sense can reduce the burden and make completing the task enjoyable. Our own platform, Covidence, helps you keep an eye on your progress and does much of the heavy lifting for you. In fact, by allowing you to import citations and screen titles, abstracts and full texts, it can reduce the time spent on each review by 35 per cent.

You’re not alone

Conducting a systematic review can be isolating at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of support groups and communities that can show you the ropes or just be there to help you through the challenges. Reach out to them on social platforms and let them share in your success.

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