Ask LH: How Can I Stop Procrastinating While Researching?

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

Dear CP,

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.


    My process is worthwhile learning for quick production of essays.

    1)Get endnote
    2) take notes as if it were a paragraph for the essay from each article in word and reference using endnote including page number
    3) rewrite and reformat the notes into the essay, you have all the references already and the writing style means you already have your own voice and won't be writing a copy of the information.

    This process has saved me so much time and every article I have can be searched in my endnote library. I have done thousand word essays and seven thousand word essays with this plan.

    I agree with above. I am a mature age student and was really struggling with the whole 'research' for subjects. I was introduced to Endnote and haven't looked back. I can categorize by subject, unit and save a copy of the article in it.
    I do like your second point of creating a paragraph in word from each article......will be incorporating that - thank you!!

    I use MS OneNote. For each article I have a "Cornell Notes" type of system - 4 columns: Theme; Quote; Page #; and comment/summary/application. I also store the article (pdf or web page printout) plus reference and other info on the page.

    I agree that you can suffer from "analysis paralysis"

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now