Difficult to say, but I think I’ve pushed too hard.

Posted: October 13, 2008 in meta, Methods, Readings, School

This week I read, among other things, “Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research” by Charney, “Working Memory in an Editing Task” by Hayes and Chenowith, and caught up on my reading about Empirical research. In reading all this, the major conclusion I’ve come to is that while Empirical research is interesting, and while the conclusions this research can draw are important, reading about them is, to put it mildly, difficult.

I’m not going to review these articles here. This week, I am more reflecting on these works in and of themselves and as representations/lessons for the semester thus far.

In and of themselves, they were difficult to read, but helped me to sharpen my skimming skills. For the first month and a half of the semester, I was dutifully (but quickly) reading everything that was assigned to me, and slowly losing my mind. I talked to a number of people, both in the department and out, alumni, people I’d just met, etc. One piece of advice came through from literally every source: You have to learn to skim. You just can’t do all the reading.

Maybe I can. But I’m not willing to find out. And I don’t have to. I have this blog that you’re reading right now.

A good friend (and my former adviser) told me a story last week. He told me that he was teaching a class, and some student made a point that reminded him of an article. During the break, he went down to his office, dug through his notes (from 8 years ago), and found what he wrote about that article. Then he showed the article to the students and pointed to the part that was relevant to the discussion. They were amazed, and wanted to know ‘How does he DO that?’

It’s not a trick of memory. It’s a trick of understanding that you can’t rely on memory, and instead taking notes. This turns reading from an exercise of memorization into an exercise in ‘getting the gist,’ in summarizing, and in accepting that you will read it again.

That’s how I’ve been looking at a lot of reading now. I look at it as somewhere I will look later, when I need that specific information. That helped a lot, managed to let me stay caught up even when I lost a whole day of work. But this great new way of looking at things had another effect, one that brings me back to the articles.

I slowed down. I let myself take a breather. In experimental terms, I changed a variable. And that changed the results remarkably. Once I had the chance to take a breath, I saw how incredibly out of breath I was. I’m burning at both ends, and if I don’t take some time to come down a bit, there won’t be anything left of me.

The hard part is telling myself that it’s okay to take a short break. That I can afford to miss one class. That I can take a tiny bit of time to recharge, and that I can do it now, before the burnout is too severe. I’m used to pushing through, to forcing it for the rest of the semester. That leaves me essentially unable to do anything during the winter break, and far worse during the summer (because one month wasn’t enough to recharge). Maybe, if I can recharge a little bit along the way, I’ll be able to get back to work sooner, and maybe be more productive.

I’m trying to paint this as a good thing. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, and I want to keep up the pace. But sometimes, maybe, in order to keep going, you have to stop for a bit.

  1. Lee-Ann says:

    Hi Joe,

    Yes, it is important to take a breather. The reading in this class was extensive.

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