Avoid the Trap of Consuming Everything Before You Start Creating


How much research do you do for your coursework?

Do you power through and consume as much stuff as possible before getting on with the creation bit?

The more you can create out of what you consume, the more validation you give to consuming content. You won’t use all of it, but there comes a time when you stop looking.

But what if the search doesn’t seem to end?

The more you consume without creating anything from it, the more worrying the situation gets. Snacking on information without an end in sight.

Munch, munch, munch. One book here, another paper there, and a final web search just for luck. Maybe I’ll check the library one more time.

And maybe another time after that…

And it goes on.

When you consume far more than you create, you face a bottleneck at best. The reality is likely worse.

Words like “perfectionism” and “procrastination” start to rear their ugly heads.

Consuming without getting anything valuable out of the process is wasteful. It happens to all of us on occasion, but it shouldn’t be a standard part of your research process.

And you can easily fall into that consumption trap. So watch out.

It feels productive to find lots to read in the library and online, but it merely gets in the way when you’re not using that content for your work.

Keep an eye on why you’re still researching. There are times when you need to look at far more than you’ll refer to, because you’re looking for inspiration or perspective. Or perhaps you’re considering several arguments before you put your own stamp on proceedings.

But make sure you’re not still consuming ALL THE THINGS simply because:

  • You’re scared to start creating;
  • You think you need to cover every possible angle that exists (hint: you don’t);
  • You’re putting off the next stage of your work;
  • You need to find a better research process to work with.

Reasons like those above aren’t good enough to keep you looking for more. Work with what you’ve got, or improve your process so it’s not so time-consuming.

You may have to be brutally honest with yourself. It’s not easy to admit, especially when you are afraid to start.

But when the pressure gets too much, remember that you can always start off without doing any in-depth research at all.

Work with what you’ve got. So long as you’ve had some input from lectures, seminars, set texts, and so on, you should have enough to get started.

And writing your own thoughts and ideas on the page is much better than staring at a blank screen. Or, worse, not even reaching the blank screen stage because you’re busy feeling overwhelmed by how much information is already out there.

When you do your research, go in with the aim of creating something soon. No need to get hold of all the research materials and quotations before you start your own creation.

Banish those bottlenecks. Find a flow that doesn’t involve all the writing at the very end of the process.

A drip-feed of research helps a lot of the information stay at the top of your mind. That, in turn, will get you engaging (and referring) to more of that research.

The more you practice this flow, the more you will create out of what you have consumed.

Farewell Facebook? Au Revoir Apps?


For those who move away from Facebook entirely, there are no doubt many others who haven’t left, but do far less on the site than before. Talk to parents, share unproblematic content, organise a few events…’harmless’ use can continue.

For everything else, new tools do the job. Students go where the family aren’t. They seek out specific communities of people. They form private networks away from prying eyes so they can keep in touch with their offline friends.

You don’t need to pretend to be several different personalities online. All you need to do is share particular types of information in particular places.

Say you buy a meal at McDonalds. You don’t explain to the cashier that you sometimes go to Burger King too. You don’t go to Nandos with your mates and announce that you also went with your Mum when she was visiting.

Your actions are public, but you keep the situations apart. Ever had one of those times when stuff clashed? Awkward.

A More Private Public?

When you’re online, you have new safeguards to consider, but it works in a similar way. Information, status updates and messages tend to linger. Plus, it’s easy enough for people to piece the information together and get a better picture of your actions. But when it comes to backing away from family, old school friends, and casual acquaintances, most bases are covered.

Information that you want strictly limited and kept away from particular individuals must be handled away from public services. If you broadcast stuff that you don’t want certain people to see, the safest option is not to broadcast it at all or do it in such a way that (almost) guarantees privacy.

And I don’t mean posting an embarrassing two-second Snapchat photo to someone in the hope that they don’t take a screenshot and share it with others. It means not posting the photo in the first place.

To App Or To Interact?

Facebook shouldn’t be concerned solely about young people who stop using the site. They should also think about those who have changed the way they use the service. Why? Because it changes the way they engage with the stuff that makes money. Everything changes…the way they see adverts, how long they spend on the site, their opinion of the service offered, the quality of the information they transmit, and so on.

When interest dwindles further, or if parents migrate to other services where their kids are hanging out (whether the kids like it or not…?), the knock-on effect could see older users moving away from Facebook too. This is all long-term stuff, which means the company won’t be resting on their laurels.

But is there a truly viable way for any social media players to keep up momentum and remain a solid player for many years to come?

I no longer think in terms of the sites and apps that people use. I’m more interested in the way they interact and the type of things they want to experience. Changes in these areas are potentially more telling than a service that’s popular at that particular moment. All it takes is one minor update or the next big thing to come along and all bets are off.

What are your favourite apps?

Now think about your answer. Will they still be your favourite apps next month? Next year? In a decade?

If you want to influence young people and connect directly with them right now, the big apps of the day matter.

But if you’re more interested in the overarching psychology behind the choices people make and the way people like to engage with each other, it’s time to look deeper than today’s top performer.

We’re Not Stereotypes, But We Share Similar Values

One thing you don’t want to do is assume that young people are wildly different to those in older generations. We all do things differently, but that doesn’t mean we want different things in the end.

People act the way they do because they have developed into that state. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. No matter how hard we try, we can’t form an accurate picture of each individual. We boil personalities down into stereotypes. But look closely and you quickly see a more complex reality that’s not so easy to summarise.

A Communispace survey found that people’s values stay roughly similar, no matter how old you are. Issues that were important way back are still pretty important now.

And younger people aren’t sharing their life stories online. Most of their private and personal matters are not broadcast. Mistakes can be made and promises broken, but we’re not witnessing a rise in explicitly open individuals who don’t care what others read about them.

We may be happier to communicate online that in years before, but the tools weren’t previously available. Advances in technology allow us to do things we couldn’t do a year or two ago, let alone decades back. These technological advances change actions and experiences far more than they do values and opinions.

No matter where you end up in years to come, the app won’t change you, but you might change the app.

Actions and Experiences

Manage the Noise – 6 Easy Ways to Plug In Better.

Where we’ve improved in communication and information, we’ve suffered in lost time and overload.

If the coming years are set to be a boom for curators of information, how can you strike a balance between drinking from a firehose and switching off the flow completely?

photo by bartmaguire

photo by bartmaguire

The Atlantic provides some ideas on how to plug in better, and there’s plenty more you can do to use your time productively and access huge amounts of noise at the same time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned to do over the years.

Six Ways to Plug In Better

  1. Prioritise accurately – Recognise social networks as a true time sink. If it’s on in the background, or constantly causing you to check your phone, it’s taking up more time and attention than you think. In many cases, that’s fine. In some cases, you need to shut down or find a way to tune in to a more limited feed of information.
  2. Know when to shut down – I used to repeat the phrase “know when to stop” a while back. It was to remind myself that time is precious. You may be wonderful at time-management, but that doesn’t mean you know when to stop. The constant flow of information coming your way is easily switched off, but it’s not so easy to make that conscious choice to shut it down.
    You rarely need to hear something at the first possible moment. You may want to, but that’s a whole different matter. Also, when a big event takes over, you’re unlikely to miss it completely. I regularly take days at a time away from online activity, but the world still goes on without problem. And I return without problem too. Nothing is damaged, no harm is done.
    To some online gurus, leaving the scene is a cardinal sin. Why not schedule something in advance? Why not make a big deal about your downtime? Why not find a way to not have any downtime at all?
    I prefer not to follow advice that doesn’t gel with the bigger picture. When my circumstances change, the bigger picture may change and I may follow different advice. So I’m listening to what makes sense in my own personal circumstances. With a bit of listening, it becomes clear when it’s wise to shut down and when it’s best to log back on.
  3. Don’t read everything – Some people complain when they’re following more than a hundred RSS news feeds. Some people complain when they’re keeping up with more than a couple hundred users on Twitter. Some people complain when they’re catching up with several hundred friends on Facebook.
    But how much of it is important? Chances are, most of what you read won’t make a difference to you. You need to be brutal and bypass a lot of the content out there. Either flick through your updates and develop a focused mind (no more cute kitten vids and hilarious TV ads will disturb you now, uh-huh!) or select the items you want to spend more time on and save them for later consumption.
  4. Don’t fall for ‘in the moment’ – When you save stuff to look at later, you may not be the first person to comment on every last detail. You may have to miss out on making a really clever remark within five seconds of someone writing a status update. I always feel sad when I miss saying something amusing in the moment, but I remind myself that I find loads of other times to do it. You can’t be everywhere all the time. Not everything will work out how you want it, and you have to get used to that (which takes a bit of practice, but isn’t difficult in itself). Once you get over this, you’ll find it much easier to turn off the feeds when you need. And you’ll find it much easier to catch up too.
  5. Scan for what’s important now, what you’ll save for later, and what might entertain you – Everything else can go out the window. If you’re unsure about something, save it for later or take a quick peek to decide one way or another. That’s a quick peek, not reading half an article! The important stuff comes first, the stuff for later comes whenever you get spare time (including never), and the stuff that might entertain you can be for your breaks and downtime when you want something else to do. Because breaks are important!
  6. Use the time you’ve got rather than finding more and more time to sort – When I’m away for a few days, or something urgent crashes in to my schedule, I may come back to A LOT of catching up. After all, I subscribe to hundreds of blogs, I follow thousands of people on Twitter, and I’m using loads of other services more too (like Google+, LinkedIn, Scoop It, and so on).
    A lot of the catching up isn’t necessary, so I work on what I should be aware of. For instance, I have a Twitter list of essential accounts to check back on for the last day or so, I have selected a few RSS feeds that need reading and a few busy RSS feeds that I can ignore without even checking, and I keep a scratchpad to make brief notes rather than trying to put something major together (that can wait, but I don’t want to lose any ideas).

I’m still learning and I doubt I’ll ever stop. So let me know what works for you when you plug in to the great firehose of noise in your life.

Research via Google alone: Are you crazy or just lazy?

Recent research has suggested that an overwhelming number of people think they can get all the information they need on the basis of a Google search.  The majority believe there is no need to probe further.  Now imagine, if 98% of people got by on a web search for their data, think how much better you could achieve if you worked in the other 2%, looking further than Google.

Even if you did one extra thing to boost your research, you’d be well on the way to producing a work with a more rounded research base and a quality bibliography.  You don’t even need to step away from the computer if you don’t want.  Many academic libraries subscribe to hundreds (if not thousands) of specialised journals and you should be just a couple of clicks away.  Your library website and departmental webpages should help you find the treasure.  If not, ask a librarian.  It’s what they’re there for!

Maybe a lot of students think the web search really will provide all the details they need to get on with their work.  Or maybe they think it’s enough to get by and believe any extra work would take too long and wouldn’t produce enough extra credit.  Either way, a lot of you are missing out.  And it doesn’t take a lot of extra time to get a much greater return.

It’s more about walking a couple more yards than it is going the extra mile.  There’s no excuse to scrimp on effort, because it doesn’t take a lot to bring everything into play.  Unfortunately, when you start with the bare minimum of work, you’re likely to build a false belief that any extra work will bog you down completely.  It only takes a couple of goes at sourcing more information to find that the reward for a few minutes extra work can be worth a bomb.  So get to it!

If you want more help on how to take your research further with ease, I have 16 ways to help you with your research in the archives.

And if you’re really interested ( or need help sleeping… 😉 ), you can read more of my thoughts on Google versus libraries if you want.