Study techniques, anyone?
I did something unusual today. For me at least. I sat down and read through a full volume of Important Journal in my Field and skimmed through a dozen more and I didn't forget everything I'd read the moment I closed the door to the office. Instead I spent about fifteen minutes before leaving summing up the main new ideas and additions to ongoing discussions in the field and felt invigorated and inspired and, like someone with an overview. I tend to think that everybody else gets much more done than I do, and it's probably not unlikely that you're all way more on top of your reading than I am, but honestly reading is something I've almost cut out of my work schedule.
I mean I do skim the e-alerts from Science, Nature and the most important journals in both my fields. I do read papers when prepping classes or writing up papers or the occasional paper by a friend or close colleague, but I don't have the kind of overview I used to have when all I did all day was work on first my Master's thesis and later my dissertation. One reason is that I don't have that kind of time or continuity anymore, but another reason is, as I discovered today, that I've simply stopped using the good study habits I used to have. These days it's all about cramming in time for writing and data processing between all the other obligations and I tend to think that reading for overview is slow, time-consuming and requires my concentration in ways I rarely have when working in the office. The latter is true and I've started closing my door most of the time (much to the disgust of my chair who enters without knocking as a way of signalling that I've stepped over some openness and availability line). But the former is not necessarily true. I used to be able to read thick piles of papers, understand them and use them in my work in a reasonable time, by concentrating, working for longer time intervals and taking notes.
And that's what I've rediscovered. For some reason I've come to think that I should be able to suck out all useful information by flipping through new volumes of the journals while being preoccupied with other tasks, and if I don't get it that way I need to invest hours and hours in meticulously combing through the entire paper word by word. Today I closed my door, set a timer for two 45 minutes increments with a break in between, made myself a cup of tea, turned off the computer, sat down at my desk with a pen and a notebook and started going through the papers, quickly but seriously, writing down key sentences for each paper and it worked. Unbelievable. I've now promised myself to go through some of the other volumes lying around in the same way. It took me two hours and I feel more on top of things than I've been since I passed my defense. So easy, and I knew it all along. From now on I hope I'm going to be "someone who reads".