Tip: When you’re stuck, step away from the computer and change your location.
Today was my first day back to work after turning in my article on Saturday. I expected it to be a slow day, but I knew if I didn’t get anything done I’d start the week demoralized. And it could so easily go downhill from there. So when I hadn’t done a thing by noon, I printed out a couple of working drafts, closed my computer, and headed to the coffee shop. I ended up with only 40 minutes to work. And work I did. I got through the first and most difficult section of turning my article back into a dissertation chapter. In only 40 minutes.
Stepping away from the computer means I won’t get sucked into the internet, and I can see my work from a different perspective. Similarly, changing location helps me feel fresh as I approach the same old paragraphs. I had a friend who would stay at home all day studying, but would change locations every hour or so. He was convinced that it kept him focused and engaged. And psychological studies bear this out (see here, for a report). Though people usually apply the “varying locations” advice to studying for tests, I find a new location can also help in analysis tasks.
When I follow this advice (which is probably not often enough), I typically end up at my favorite coffee shop downtown. Where do you go when you need a fresh location?