How to Overcome “Research Addiction” and Do More
If you are anything like me, when you get excited about an idea, you start the research process. You can spend hours on Pinterest. You’ll read blog after blog. You probably have so many tabs open you can’t even read their names. You’ve added a hundred more books to your Amazon wishlist. Before you realize it, there’s a ton of detailed research but no real execution.
Indulge in research feels safe. It’s easy to convince yourself that there is actual progress in learning or finding inspiration, but that first step into doing is never taken. Eventually you feel frustrated because your projects don’t see the light of day.
Well I’m happy to share with you that this condition is actually curable. Yes! There is hope for us research addicts, to direct some of that energy into actual productivity.
Do research, find some actionable items, try applying something, continue research.
A way to do this is to set time blocks. You can do research for 30 minutes and then implement what you’ve learned until you feel stuck again. You can use an alarm to remind you.
For example, if you are doing research because you want to write a blog post on a subject, after the set time block, start writing, even if you feel you are not ready. You can start by just drafting a few thoughts or some possible titles. Sometimes starting will make things flow, and you will be able to go for a while. Sometimes you will feel stuck. Try another approach, and if you are not flowing, go back to research. Again when the alarm sounds, try again.
Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s not “perfect”. Eventually you will have something on the page, and that is enough to celebrate and work with. I’m using the writing example because that is what I’m doing right now, but really it can be anything. If you are doing research on decluttering, after collecting a few perspectives, go and get rid of something! If you are researching on dog training, alternate by doing some tricks with your dog.
2. Lower your expectations
Done is better than perfect.
This one might sound hard for type A personalities, but no kidding, people like Tim Ferris and Seth Godin preach and practice this. It’s also one of my favorites. It’s a way of MVPing any idea.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a term that got very popular lately, mostly in the startup culture, but it applies in many cases. It’s basically the minimum effort that would show your idea to be able to get real feedback. So instead of trying to do the best possible version of your idea, you just do enough to test it. This way you avoid investing a ton of effort into something that doesn’t work or nobody wants.
It also helps by lowering the pressure, since you are working not for the final version but for an OK provisional version, you are able to move on more easily, and you don’t have to be perfectly ready for it, therefore you can cut a lot of the research and focus on implementing and getting other people’s opinions.
3. Get out of your head
Beware of Impostor’s Syndrome.
If you are staring at a blank page and that makes you jump into a research binging, that could be because you feel unprepared, and some type of “Impostor’s syndrome”. This is kind of similar to habit #2, except a lot more focused on you personally.
You may be thinking, “Who I am to be talking about this? Why would people listen to me?” You constantly feel like you are going to be judged, based on everything you don’t know, or the mistakes you might make, instead of the value you might be delivering. This paralyzes you and your value is never shared. Take comfort in knowing that highly successful people suffer from this, too.
You most likely won’t become an expert on a subject just from non-stop research, but it sure helps to feel prepared enough. The point is to not do research for the sake of research. So if you feel like you are getting stuck there and are not able to get into doing mode because of these kind of fears, it’s probably some performance anxiety or impostor’s syndrome.
Ask yourself if you would judge so hard someone else as you think they would judge you. We tend to exaggerate how important we are, for better or worse. It might help if you stop thinking about what other people will think of you, and instead focus on delivering value. Dropping your ego and remembering that it’s not about you but about your message may allow you to flow and actually enjoy what you are doing.
4. Allow your subconscious to take over
Intuition is the seat of creativity.
After a while of researching there is a ton of information spinning around your head, and you might feel like there is still so much more to learn, but it’s possible that you are not allowing anything to really sink in. If you still don’t know how to start, try trusting your subconscious and let it do its work.
In western societies we tend to think that knowledge is only gained through focused rationality, but we forget of other, sometimes even more important tools, like “sleeping on it”. Hemingway made a habit of stopping his writing mid-sentence, relaxing for the rest of the night, and would wake up with a fresh set of new ideas.
Particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed by information, I would recommend scheduling a break. Interrupt research and do something that completely takes your mind off of it. Go for a jog or walk, play with your pet, take a nap, or meditate. Whatever you do, avoid thinking of the research topics, or whatever problem you are trying to solve via research.
5. Emotional Resilience.
Hey boy, fetch!
I share the office with my partner’s dog, and every few hours he comes to me with his favorite toy asking me to chase him. I usually tell him I’m busy, but he doesn’t understand human languages, so he keeps insisting. And he usually wins. I chase him all over the office until he gets tired I get tired. But every time, even after I complain, I come back to my desk with renewed energy and new perspectives.
This works for playing with pets and kids, or taking a break to share some love with your romantic partner or friends. And if you don’t have access to any of that, there are always cat videos on YouTube! Just keep this one time-blocked too 🙂
6. Change perspective
There is always a bigger picture.
I have worked closely with artists for over a decade, as a curator and coach, as well as being an artist myself. Do you know what is a very common mistake? Many artists work on a piece, let’s say a painting, and are sitting very close to it for hours. Then eventually they get off the chair, walk away thinking they are doing a masterpiece, only to find out that the painting is completely distorted, or lacking the expressiveness they were going for. Sometimes they are not even able to see that until someone else points it out.
What happens is that we can get very absorbed into whatever perspective we have, and we tend to miss the bigger picture. When we are doing research we sometimes get stuck into particular perspectives, too.
Trying to put the ideas out into the world, even if at first it’s just calling a friend or trusted mentor, may take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but it makes you organize your ideas to be able to explain them to others. The “outsiders” can usually help you see other perspectives by asking questions or giving constructive criticism, or even acting as a soundboard. There will always be things you didn’t think of. Try to see a bigger picture, and trust me, there is always a bigger picture.
7. Change scenario
Take a walk.
Does it ever happen that you get in front of your computer thinking you’ll do a bit of research, and next think you know the sun is completely gone? You turn on the lights and wonder where the day went, and how you never left your place. Unless you are making progress with your work or are in the zone, it’s time for a change of scenario. If you are at the office, or your home (this is the most dangerous one), go to a coffee shop. Go to the park and try habit #4. In this case, if you are writing, you can take pen and notebook to write, or your laptop. It’s a bonus if you don’t have wifi, so you don’t feel tempted to go back to researching.
Rinse and repeat
These are just some habits I work on. Of course, you can always mix and match between them. I just did a few of these while writing this post!
Do you have any stories you would like to share? Please leave your comments below or send me a message!