Finding the right balance between thinking, learning, doing, and reviewing

Do you overthink things? Do you read a lot about productivity instead of actually doing things? Do you get so caught up in doing things that you don’t know where the time went? Do you focus too much on the past instead of moving on? It can be tricky to find the balance among all these things – to plan and learn and do and review just enough so that you can get to the next stage, and to keep going through that cycle instead of getting stuck. It’s all about staying focused on action.

I struggle with this sometimes too. It’s so easy, so tempting to keep learning abstract ideas. But the real learning happens when you act on it.

2013-11-01 How can I keep my learning focused on action

You can also think of this in terms of a pipeline. If you’re thinking about too much but your plans aren’t making it to the next stage, you’ve got lots of floating ideas. If you’re learning a lot from other people but you’re not putting what you learn into practice, it stays abstract. If you’re doing a lot but you don’t have time to review or adjust your plans, you might end up doing the wrong things. And if you’re reviewing a lot without thinking about how to move forward, you get stuck.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this balance. I haven’t figured it out yet. I want to find just the right mix so that I’m not overloading my memory or my capacity to learn from things.

How can I find the right balance of thinking, learning, doing, and reviewing

Thinking and planning: If I rush in, I waste time backtracking. If I spend too much time thinking without doing things, I go around in circles. If I do this just right, then I would think about something just enough to let me identify some resources to learn from and experiments to try. Right now, I tend to spend more effort thinking than I probably should. I can tell because I find myself writing down the same TODOs in my sketches. One of the reasons why I’m focusing on thinking so much is because I’m sorting out this new workflow, so once it settles down, I’ll move forward faster. Current: Too much

Learning from other people: If I do too little of this, I waste time figuring things out myself. If I spend too much time doing this, I read and listen without actually trying things. If I do this just right, then I would learn enough to get me to the point of trying things out. I used to spend way more time learning from other people compared to thinking on my own, so I’ve been pulling back. I might have pulled back excessively, though. I’ll get to this after I get into the swing of doing things, or as part of my efforts to learn how to ask better questions. Current: Not enough

Doing things: Coding, building, trying things out… If I do too little of this, my notes stay abstract. If I do too much of this, it’s usually at the expense of good notes, and that makes it difficult to review what I’ve done or reuse my solutions. If I do this just right, then I’ll be working in tight, time-limited, focused chunks that make it easy to review and re-plan along the way. (Although since I’m focusing on learning at the moment, does my thinking and planning count as doing? Hmm…) Current: Not enough

Reviewing: This involves writing about what I’ve learned and figuring out the next steps. If I do too little of this, the days blur together. If I do too much of this… Can I do too much of this? Maybe if I write more than what I and other people would find valuable (well, the cost-benefit equation considering number of people and value). For example, it doesn’t make sense to spend days thinking about a meal (Proust notwithstanding), although spending half an hour to write up a technical solution is probably worth it. Current: All right

So my plan for the next few months is to settle into these new “habits of mind” for thinking, gradually check off more tasks, and then work on getting better at learning from other people. I’m also curious about efficiency improvements for reviewing, such as dictating my blog posts or building up Flickr as a quick way for people to follow or comment on my notes.

How about you? What’s your balance like, and how would you like to tweak it?

  • RichardinMelbourne

    Your choice of categories is interesting because it fits one of the oldest sets of four categories: fire, earth, air, water. In astrology these four elements are associated with your four activities;
    action – fire, thinking – air, reflecting – water, learning from other (or sensing) – earth. It is also interesting that the order of them is reversed in your thinking – learning from others, action, reflecting. In astrology the order is 1.fire, 2.earth, 3. air 4. water. That is doing, sensing, thinking, reflecting (and repeat). There is some suggestion that these four elements also reflect our brain chemistry and are reflected or arise from four potent(ial) chemicals in our brain; testosterone (fire), dopamine (air), serotonin (earth) and oestrogen (water). So it may be that our actions/thinking/reflecting/learning are really slaves to our chemistry… cheers…rf

  • Paul D

    Wow… where has this blog been my whole life! Came for the org-mode goodness, stayed for the awesome. Keep it up! This blog is about the most fantastic labor of love I have seen in a long time.

    • http://sachachua.com sachac

      Awwww… =) Thanks for the encouragement! And hey, if you like what I’m sharing, ask questions and that’ll help me learn/share even more.

  • Judy T.

    I feel like I’ve come across my twin. Sharing the same struggles with balance. I have an almost obsessive need to explore all the connections I come across while in the thinking mode, then overwhelm zaps my enthusiasm. Result: fizzle out, procrastinate, stay in comfort zone. Thanks for this clear map of the issues and sharing your struggle.

    • http://sachachua.com sachac

      I’m delighted to hear that you recognize yourself in this! =) I’d love to learn from how you’re learning to deal with it, too. I think catching myself when I’m going too “meta” will help: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sachac/10986725553/