Dear LH, The trouble with the internet age is that once you start researching a topic, it's hard to know when to stop. You can read so many inspiring articles and watch so many thought-provoking videos. The information available is endless. How can I make sure I'm not wasting time during this phase? What rules should I apply? Thanks, Chronic Procrastinator
Distraction picture from Shutterstock
This is definitely a habit I find it easy to fall into — you start a search, you click a few related links, you encounter a new term or name and search on that, and before you know it three hours have passed but you still haven't done any actual work. This is the approach I use to minimise that behaviour. (I say "minimise" with feeling — no-one is perfect at this stuff and everyone has lapses.)
Firstly, assign specific time on your calendar for your research activity. Unless you're actually a university student, this probably won't be a lengthy session: 30 minutes to an hour will often suffice. Put that time on your calendar, and put something else you can't avoid after it so that you don't have the option of over-running.
Secondly, define a specific question you're looking for the answer to. Don't just say to yourself "I'm going to try and improve my diet". Say to yourself "I'm going to find out how many calories someone of my height/weight/gender/age/activity level needs each day, and how many I get from the three foods I eat most often".
Yes, I realise that sometimes new and separate questions will arise from your research. That's OK. Take note of them, but don't start searching for information on those topics right away. They'll be the subject of a specific, separate research session on your calendar. The only exception is if you literally reach a brick wall with your original question, and can't progress further without changing focus. In that case, you can switch — but don't overrun your time. Make a future appointment with yourself to finish the task.
Thirdly, be ruthless about the quality of what you read. If information isn't sourced, it's open to question. Wikipedia is often good for an overview, but if the article doesn't have lots of footnotes and references, the content may be suspect. YouTube videos that aren't from someone who is clearly an expert are equally suspect. Check out our guide on how to know if a controversial statement is true for more details.
Finally, take notes from each article you read or video you watch as you go. That forces you to identify the relevant information and absorb it. Yes, it's more work than just reading lots of stuff and letting it wash over you — but you'll still have to make notes at some point. Doing it this way ensures you've actually noted the relevant details.
Sometimes idly wandering around the internet and educating yourself is part of its charm. If you have time to spare and no particular task in mind, then feel free to roam. But if you need to actually learn something new and specific, these guidelines have definitely helped me. If readers have other tactics they find useful, we'd love to hear them in the comments.
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