Beware of distractions

In our recent Learning Futures Festival 2011: Follow the Sun presentation (click here for Adobe Connect recording), one of my colleagues, Alison Ewing, raised “healthy question” about technologies (starting at 32 minutes into the recording). One comment, tied directly to my section, included Twitter. She spoke of the potential of Twitter and other technologies to “lead me [her] down avenues which are interesting but distracting, and take me away from actually what I want to be doing, what I should be doing….” Well, Ali, that makes a lot of sense.

The hours in a day are finite, and there are competing demands. Ali finds that Twitter and other technologies can be helpful, as I wholeheartedly agree, but we concur we must be careful to avoid the drain on time. It is easy to follow a link and delve into a new direction. Also, I’m not sure how many times I have seen a question asked that has caused me to do a little searching to provide an answer, be it education, community, or work related. It is good to do, and others respond to our questions or discussions. But, there are times to turn off and focus.

Working on my master’s degree a number of years ago (late 90s), the very early hours of the morning were best for uninterrupted study. With family sleeping and the telephone silent, I was assured that the only thing coming between me and the readings was the desire to nap. True, I had a computer and online communications, but the level of social media that we have today was not happening.

Now, while I still love the early morning studies, I can be sure that emails or other messages await me, and there is someone online with whom to connect. An outstanding question may await an answer or comment. Of course, this continues throughout the day and distractions are magnified when others are up, the telephone rings, and family asks for attention because I am working and studying from home. Some seem to do well with constant switching between activities, but that is not me.

I often crave more time to read, and I know I must make concerted efforts to have uninterrupted hours. Perhaps this means letting a call or two go to voice mail or posting a sign indicating I am busy. I have removed the data from my mobile telephone, so I no longer see constant emails.

Getting away from email, sometimes for hours, I have discovered something. There is never a message needing a response that could not wait. If something is really urgent, I have my telephone with call display. If I am away from my home office for any length of time, I likely have my computer and mobile Internet for when I do need/want to ‘check in.’  My (slightly) adult son says I shouldn’t spend so much time at home if I want to reduce his calls for attention, so more mobile I will be if it will allow more focus!

If you are studying, what do you do to manage your reading or time for other assignments? Are you finding enough hours to do the amount of reading you plan?

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA

Confessions of a PhD Student (1): “I am guilty of procrastinating”

Ok. I confess. About a year ago, when I started my PhD, I began playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. I’ve just reached level 55. That implies over 3,500 one-minute long games. That is about 59 hours. It is true. I am not exaggerating. I just checked my statistics and did the math. And that’s only one of the games I play. I am guilty of procrastinating.

Bejeweled Blitz

I know I do it. But it is so hard to not do it!! I don’t have any courses. I control my own progress. I set up my own deadlines. It is so easy to argue with myself…

- Hey, what if I play for a bit and then I work?

– But we have to finish this today.

- You know it doesn’t really matter. We can finish it tomorrow, and it’s all the same.

- Yeah, you’re right. Ok… Just one more game…

I’ve tried dealing with this in two main ways. Firstly, every once in a while I get in a deep state of concentration. I read, analyze, write, argue, create… I become fast, efficient. I try to make the most out of these periods. All work, no procrastination. Secondly, I’ve asked my supervisor to establish official deadlines for me. Having the commitment to hand in a product on a specific day helps me focus on the task. It destroys the “it doesn’t really matter” argument.

On the other hand, playing silly games can also be a way of getting ready to work. It helps my mind organize its ideas. I feel more relaxed afterwards. Maybe procrastinating is not so bad after all… Or maybe that’s just my guilty side talking, trying to claim a reduced sentence…

– Brenda Padilla

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