Friday, April 08, 2005

Spinning your wheels

I was reading an article “The Considerable Satisfaction of 2 Pages a Day” in The Chronicle of Higher Education* (April 8th edition) in which the author, Jay Parini (2005), wrote that he got far more done working in little bits in between other responsibilities (like teaching and marking) than he did when he sat down with large amounts of time available. In fact, he was afraid that if he took time off from teaching, marking, and sitting on committees that he wouldn’t get nearly as much done as he did now with all those responsibilities.

The same thing can be said for doing your academic work. The structure of everyday demands (and I include exercise, friends and family here), like Parini (2005) pointed out, is a good thing when it is combined with doing little bits at a time mixed with a sense of forward motion. A paper, or a comprehensive exam, or in Parini’s case, a novel or an article, is pretty overwhelming when you look at the whole picture, but not so bad when you look at it as Parini does, as “two pages a day.” You might not get the whole paper written, or all the chapters read, but at least you’ve done some of it.

When I teach the time management workshop, I talk about the dangers of “spinning your wheels,” those nasty moments when you are so overwhelmed by all the work and by endless big projects that you stop working altogether and get deeper and deeper into the mud (so to speak). Anyone who has been stuck in the mud knows that spinning your wheels is the worst thing you can do. Gentle movements forward and backward (and maybe some pushing to go along with that) are what will move you forward. To make this forward movement possible, do anything: review your notes, read a chapter section, reorganize computer files, check your citations, write an outline, read an article, format your paper and do it. You’ll be amazed at how soon you will be out of the mud and on your way.

So, take advantage of your 20 minute chunks; break your big jobs into smaller jobs; and allow yourself to work in smaller bits rather than insisting on the big chunks of studying that most students think is required. Just make sure that you are moving forward at a reasonable pace.

New Handouts on our web page

Terms Used in Essay Exams and Levels of Thinking (pdf, html)
SQ3R Reading Strategy (pdf, html)
Text Marking and Highlighting (pdf, html)
Study Notecards (pdf, html)
General Note-taking Tips (pdf, html)
The Cornell Note-taking System (pdf, html)

* The Chronicle is aimed primarily at faculty and is password protected but is interesting to general readers nonetheless and available through Bison. Just go to Bison, type in The Chronicle of Higher Education (a list of books and journals will appear, Chronicle is #5). When you click on that link a web page will appear that will provide a password.


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