Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Change of Environment

The new semester started this week, which means I'm back to juggling work and study after my year off.  And I'm feeling very much thrown in the deep end, with already a pile of reading to be done, and a couple of reports to write, and I'm desperately trying to remember how on earth I used to manage to fit all this in around full time work.

Part of the answer of course is about setting up good habits and routines (which I've talked about before).  And I will, over the next few weeks, get myself back into the rhythm of studying and of organising the rest of my life around fitting it in.  And as always, I'll resign myself to having no life until the semester is over.  I'll work it out.

But today, with all that work to be done, and very aware that this was my only free day for uninterrupted study, I just couldn't settle down to it.  I'd made sure the house was clean and tidy (I can't think straight when there's a mess around me), had a quiet and comfortable (but not too comfortable) spot to work in, removed all distractions, and otherwise made everything as conducive to study as possible, but despite all that, for some reason I just couldn't concentrate.  I'd read a sentence or two of a paper and then my mind would start to wander, or I'd suddenly want a glass of water, or to open the window because it was too warm, or to find a jumper to put on because now it was too cold, or to go to the toilet because of all those glasses of water, or... yeah, you get the idea.

So rather than waste my time struggling on unsuccessfully (and with no time to just give up and try again later), I completely changed my environment.  I packed up my books, walked over to a nearby cafe, ordered lunch, and settled back down to my reading.  And spent a very constructive three hours there, during which time I totally broke the back of the work I needed to get done.

Yes, it was noisier there than it would have been at home, but none of it was noise I needed to pay attention to, so it didn't distract me.  And yes, juggling reading material, notes, and my lunch on a small cafe table was a bit more awkward than using the wide expanse of desk I've got at home, but that just meant I had to focus more closely.  Or maybe it was just the fresh air and exercise I got walking over there that helped. Whatever, it worked for me.

Now I'm not saying you should do all your studying in cafes.  I'm not even saying that's where I'm going to be spending much time.  But on this particular day, in that particular mood, that was the right environment for me to be in, not my theoretically perfect study space at home.  And that's worth remembering - that on those days when it's just not clicking for you, sometimes a change of environment is all you need to get yourself back into the right mental space for study.  Give it a try sometime!

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