The Usual Approach
When we are given a task, our tendency is to become really excited about this new exercise, and to learn everything we can about it. We scour the Internet, and read everything we can find. Then, an alarm bell goes off. Our deadline is quickly approaching, and we have yet to begin preparing our paper, presentation, or proposal.
Panic sets in, and we rush around trying to develop a coherent story about what we have studied from the various leads we have generated. We will probably complete this task, but it will be stressful. Our learning process will feel drawn out and difficult. Moreover, we will likely feel considerable anxiety the next time we are given a similar task, which will invariably lead to procrastination and an even slower learning process.
Speeding Up Your Approach
To speed up this approach, we must work in three stages. Stage 1: Find and read a literature review/topic summary. Stage 2: Develop a skeleton of the required task. Stage 3: Pour out all of your thoughts without pause, then edit.
Stage 1: Find and Read A Literature Review/Topic Summary. Look for a summary of what you want to present. If there is research on the topic, most people have to develop a literature review, which means that at the beginning of their research paper they will cover what is currently known in the field. Read this first. If you include any of this information in your final write up, give credit to the person, who wrote the literature review and all the people who he/she cited.
If there is no research on the topic, find three resources that claim to have summaries or a basic understanding of the field. The points that intersect between them will become your literature review. With this information, look at two new studies or write-ups about your topic published in the last year or two.
Stage 2: The Skeleton. Write out what your boss, teacher, or you require for this task. I call this the skeleton. Write one sentence about what you intend to accomplish, and offer up a viewpoint based on what you have read. Mark off a beginning part to discuss this, then label three sections with positions that support your original viewpoint, leaving a fourth open for concluding thoughts.
Stage 3: Pour Out All Of Your Thoughts Without Pause, Then Edit. Start writing, immediately. Do not worry about editing. Just get all of your thoughts out, while the fire is hot. Trust that you know enough to get this done. Be kind enough to acknowledge that nobody knows everything. Then, go back and edit, revising wording and even section titles to fit your overall presentation. And, there you are. All done!
Notes About The Approach
If you do not have enough content, go back to stage one. Look at the resources you have used. If there is not enough information there, you can search for more. However, be very, very specific about what you are looking for. It is very easy to get caught up on a detail that is not that important to your fundamental knowledge and presentation of a topic.
If the skeleton needs revising, that is fine as well. You want to make sure that each section builds on the previous section, and is carrying the reader or listener to your big conclusion. Hint: Your big conclusion is mostly a restatement of your original point in the introductory section.
In terms of editing, get rid of anything that does not support your original point or the point of the section under which it is written. Some people try to save time by editing as they go. I do not recommend this. The risk is too great that you miss the bigger points you are trying to make. It will always be easier to revise words than it will be to come up with big ideas. If you are a slow writer, try recording yourself first. Then, refer back to this recording for your writing.
Many of us are quick to judge our learning speed, which only slows us down. Instead, remember to L.O.O.K. first. It stands for Learning Out Of Kindness. The kinder you are towards yourself the more resources you will have available to learn. More resources equal faster learning. If you are truly kind to yourself, you will also learn small tricks that speed up your learning, such as special lighting, the use of particular pens or pencils, the use of certain music, the use of notecards, or even the use of recording gear.
These small changes can lead to big gains. Never underestimate the power of a kind mind at work. Whatever your experience with this process, reward yourself for the small successes. We always come back for the good stuff.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 112. In The Books.