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Hanging out with your data

February 14, 2013

In my never-ending quest to be more productive in my research I notice things about the way I work. I don’t know about others, but I have a difficult time diving back into a project that I haven’t worked on for a few weeks or longer. At least, picking up where I left off with the same momentum. Whether it’s sifting through data, drafting figures, or the actual writing it takes me some time to ‘get into it’. How much time? Depends. In some cases, I can jump back into the very same task and state of mind within ~10-15 minutes. In other cases, I’ll spend an hour (sometimes much longer) flailing about and making little tangible progress.

In the cases where it takes longer to find that groove, I find myself hanging out, for lack of a better phrase, with my data. Not necessarily analyzing it or doing anything useful with it. Just hanging out and being near it. For example, I’ll print out some key outcrop photos, a map, or a plot I made weeks prior and have it near me while I work on unrelated tasks. The questions, ideas, and speculations related to that problem then begin to re-occupy my thoughts. Sooner or later, I’m in the state where I can devote mental effort and make real progress.

Does anyone else work like this?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2013 2:37 pm

    Hi Brian. I have the same problem and require at least a clear day (i.e. no meetings, etc) to get anything going, be it with new data or old data. If it’s old stuff, I find it useful to print out text, figures, related papers, etc, and sit away from my PC, preferably in a coffee shop. It is’s new stuff, I might get the figures together, print out some key papers I want to challange/complement, and then head to the coffee shop…large format seismic sections can make you unpopular in the coffee shop though…Chris

    • February 15, 2013 5:17 am

      Ha, yea, I’m picturing you taking up 5 tables at the coffee shop and rolling out huge seismic profiles.

  2. Ann permalink
    February 19, 2013 1:17 pm

    I used to hang out with my data too. It was usually because there was something in the back of my mind where I felt I was missing something. If I tried working with it it would not come to me. Sometimes it took stepping back and letting it sit before it would come to me what I was not getting. Once I would figure that out then I could finish things up easily. I think it happens to people more than you realize and you are not alone with that problem.

  3. Henry permalink
    February 20, 2013 12:09 pm

    I like to print maps, logs and seismic lines and pretty much plaster my walls with it from time to time (live in the data? with the data? have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the data?) Then clean it all up. I find in these intimate data moments…it almost literally starts to tell you stuff.

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