I'll be reading something for work and encounter some little factoid that demands exploration. The next thing I know, an hour has been lost to reading about the history of Amish quilt designs. There's nothing too obscure or too mundane; every bit of information leads to a dozen more bits.
My wife and I share a passion for information and often watch History, Discovery, Science, and the other educational cable networks. While watching, I'll sit with my laptop and search for the sources they cite. My wife will do the same, especially while watching the Food Network.
It isn't a problem to follow tangents while watching television or reading for enjoyment. It is a problem when you can't resist the tangents while working. And… I can seldom resist.
The mix of Google Bookmarks, Safari's Reading List, and the wonderful "Save As Webarchive" feature have allowed me to save some articles for later reading, but it is still difficult to set something aside for later. I have a folder on my each of my computer systems named "Research" with more than a dozen categories within that folder. At the moment, there are 1,175 items in the folders (1.12 gigabytes of data). There's more, but those files are in other research folders for current projects.
This weekend, I'm working on a report for the university. The research leads me in dozens of different directions. Inevitably, I spend an hour here and an hour there off on those tangents. While working on a proposal for writing courses, I find myself reading about online education, the psychology of writers, and trends in technical communication.
Instead of skimming university course catalogs, I end up reading the detailed course descriptions and visiting writing program websites. The courses sound so interesting, I am compelled to read the syllabi and then research yet more. The right approach is to skim, take notes, and move on with my work. But, I love information.
A class on medical rhetoric? Of course I'm going to save the reading list and start researching the topic. Oh, and who wouldn't be interested in the rhetoric of physics? Yes, there is such a thing. As a fan of the Science Channel and Prof. Michio Kaku, how could I not wonder what the reading list for a course called "The Rhetoric of Physics" includes? Science is a series of ongoing debates.
Maybe you can understand my problem. There's so much information out there, so much knowledge to attempt to grasp, and I want to learn everything.
Even as I write this, I'm pondering a half-dozen or more things I'd like to research about research tools. Which web bookmarking tools are best? What's the best way to grab articles for later reading? Is my research properly organized?
At least my wife loves learning as much as I do. She's also compulsive at organizing data and information.