Do you struggle with research because you think you need to be sitting at your desk to do it?
I know that schools are really big on sitting still and being quiet as the necessary precursor to doing academic work. You did well in school. But just because that’s how school trained you, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to get academic work done.
Movement actually helps you think better.
The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion. From this, one might predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. That is exactly what one finds. Indeed, the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour.
John Medina, Brain Rules
You are not wasting time or making excuses. Nor is getting exercise a good thing for other reasons that you need to make time for.
Exercise makes your think better. Your job is to think.
If you think better when moving…
- Combine your research time with running, biking, or walking.
- Get a mini-tramp and bounce while thinking about research ideas.
- Or just pace up and down.
Moving + reading
Of course you can’t read while biking, at least not without seriously endangering yourself.
Try these options:
- Put your book on a music stand so you can knit while reading. Choose relatively plain knitting so your thinking brain can concentrate on the book.
- Play with a string of beads. You can get nice ones here (no, I don’t get a commission).
- Take notes, whether you refer to them or not. Writing is a physical activity that might activate that part of your brain that needs movement.
For more serious movement, consider reading while on a treadmill or stationary bike. (You might need to go slower than you would without the book.)
Moving + writing…
This is harder.
Generative writing is getting ideas out of your head onto paper where you can revise and edit them into a more coherent argument. You can definitely dictate into your smartphone or a digital recorder while walking (or on that treadmill, stationary bike, or while pacing around your office).
Consider trying out voice recognition software (something like Dragon Dictate) to translate those spoken words into the shitty first draft.
Take regular movement breaks
Sometimes you do have to sit there. Reading. Writing. Staring at sources trying to figure out what is going on.
Don’t force yourself to sit there past your fidget point. Get up and move around. This will release all the pent up energy that will otherwise distract you.
Moving will enable you to process the ideas you have been dealing with while sitting still. (see this post for a list of suggestions)
Set a timer if you have to. There is a rather pleasant free one here (designed for meditation so it shouldn’t be too intrusive).
You work in a field where you have considerable autonomy.
Figure out how you work best and then design your day and your space to support your work.
It’ll feel weird at first. You might have to experiment a bit to figure out what works for you.
If sitting at your desk isn’t working, start experimenting.
This post was originally published October 14, 2009. It has been edited.