Study Leave Week 5

Why you can’t research all the time

It is well known that some of our best thinking happens when we are not trying to think. Some researchers and commentators call this an “incubation period“; I often use the analogy of allowing ideas to “percolate”. But there are times when no thinking and no research gets done at all, and we have to recognise that.

My own experience in the past week or so has taught me something important: you can’t write a book on a buiding site.

To clarify: I spent most of last week at my parents’ house, which is over 3 hours’ drive away from where I am based in Sheffield, doing renovation work that they are unable to manage themselves. During this time, workmen had the floorboards up, removing ageing central heating, and replacing it with a new system. As they were busy hammering, soldering, clanging, replacing pipework, draining the system, and testing the system (doing an absolutely *fantastic* job with impressive professionalism), I was working on clearing and cleaning, making sure the workmen could get on with their job each day safely and without too much hindrance. [A brief note here to acknowledge the sterling work by my husband who project managed the week’s work]. It might not sound like much, but whereas I had thought I might be able to snatch a couple of hours of research “time out” each day, it turned out that no such thing was possible. It wasn’t because of the noise or the dust, but simply because of how much physical work was needed to get the job completed on time. There is more building work to come later in the year (both at my parents’ house, and our own), and I’ve got to think carefully about how I manage my research time around that. One week I can write off, but more than that and my book will never get written…

So it was a week in which no incubation or percolation happened, because both mind and body were absorbed in intensive physical labour. As a result it has taken me much longer to get my head back into my research (including ticking off the conference-related admin that I was now behind on). On a positive note, however, I did manage a trip to Cambridge to meet up with a colleague there to plan next steps on a joint publication/conference project for 2018. My mental energies may have been exhausted but there are exciting things on the horizon at least.

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