Overwhelmed by knowledge

One of the biggest problems that I have as a researcher is academic reading. As a kid, I was a voracious reader of fiction – especially sci-fi and fantasy – I would often read almost a novel a day. For some reason though, I find academic reading so difficult to do.

I find that I am slow, and that the knowledge is hard to absorb. I usually have to read something twice to be able to get anything good out of it, and then a third time to consolidate the ideas into something usable. This is time consuming for me – and considering how fast I’m used to reading (and remembering the contents), it is extremely frustrating.

In general, I avoid it. Which is a terrible thing to say, but is also completely honest. I will do every single other task (and exhaust every social media feed) before I pick up an article to read. When I do pick up something, I find that I start skimming the paragraphs very quickly, not taking anything in, and then have to read each paragraph a few times to even know what it’s talking about. If I do manage to read something well, I get agitated with all the thoughts that I have and all the responses I want to write to points made.

Sometimes, I get distracted by all the things that I don’t know. Someone will drop a quote from someone, and I’ll realise that’s an article that’s incredibly important to my research but I knew nothing about and then I will feel like there’s so much background information I have to read that  I can’t possibly focus on the one I’m reading.

This feeling of having so much to read is another reason that I struggle to start reading anything. Where should I start? There’s 6 big fields that I have to get my head around, and every time I read an “entry” type article or book, it explodes out into another 50 or more things that I need to read. Which is completely overwhelming.

I know that I can’t possibly read everything for my project, but I do need to read enough in each area to have more than a foundational knowledge of each topic. The process of choosing these articles is not meant to be easy. I need to read more than is necessary to be able to decide on which ones are useful. I need to read the foundational materials, the material that is relevant to my project, and the cutting edge of the field.

I think that feeling overwhelmed by the amount of reading I have to do is not a bad thing. It just can’t be something that stops me from actually doing the readings. I don’t really know how to deal with this at the moment. I’m trying to set aside reading times and read a minimum of an article or a chapter a day, but it is still not something that’s easy. For example, this post has been written in the middle of a reading session, because the idea was solidified by something that I read in the article. I need better ways of taking notes – and to actually remember to take them. And I need to find a better way to hold all the knowledge in my head and not forget it all immediately.

Back to my motto I guess. One thing at a time. Just keep going. Do one thing, then the next thing, and so on, and eventually you’ve got more done than you ever planned.

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