Recently, I attended a workshop series that talked about how to be a more efficient and effective academic. It was not a waste of time, let me say that up front. These workshops can be really hit or miss and this one was mostly hit. It caused me to examine my worst procrastinating behavior ““ succumbing to distractions.
I want to outline what the speaker discussed, but I do not want to advocate this view. In fact, I take some issue with it, but it is a solid jumping off point for thought and discussion. There, I have washed my hands clean and hopefully built some tension in the process (oooh, tension). Well, anyway, the speaker discussed how sometimes to procrastinate from the hard research/dissertation, we spend our time doing other things, like learning how to compost and meeting colleagues for coffee. Basically, we tend to say yes to lots of activities and things that distract us from reaching our end goals.
It sounds legitimate ““ I know I get really into my keyboard cleanliness when I have a big hunk of data to analyze in a complicated and potentially tedious way. But I have some doubts about whether some distractions are really distractions.
Oh, I know I might sound like an apologist for dicking around. I embrace that, honestly. Like Vonnegut, I think we were put on this earth to fart around. But in this context, it goes beyond my own personal philosophy. It is my experience that the best ideas come from collaboration, that my biggest leaps forward came from talking to other people. Sure, going to coffee and chatting about the weekend is fun and can serve as a great brain-break, but while I see the value in it from a personal productivity standpoint, I can see how that would be more distraction than anything else.
But discussions with colleagues and students? I am not sure that that can be counted a distraction. Hell, even Apple headquarters, story goes, was set up to encourage happenstance meetings, so I am not alone in feeling that these conversations can spur creativity, ideas, and new analyses. I need these conversations to bring together ideas that I could not develop on my own. No academic is an island, and there is no reason to force ourselves to work in a mental vacuum.
So what distracts you? How do you deal with it? And where do conversations with colleagues fit in?