At times you will not seem to know where you are going. You have decided to learn something new, but after a few sessions as you start to think about things more deeply, you become lost. Are you ruminating or procrastinating. Does it really matter?
You are still in the early stages of thinking about your subject, but now you can’t really say in the early stages of what. You were reading and writing down ideas, but now you are drifting. You look over your notes, and your reading materials, but it’s not helping. You would be well-advised to call it a day, you think. But then you think, “am I just confused and needing to mull things over, or am I procrastinating?”
Frankly, you don’t know which, and you are unlikely to be able to figure that out. Ruminating about a subject is at times necessary and an obvious strategy for finding your way between the issues important, critical or of just marginal importance to a subject. Of course, you could be procrastinating, but very likely you would know that. If you’re tired and just feeling like not thinking about the subject, the mind allows you the leisure to just mull things over and eventually just deliberately shutting down.
My own view is that it’s best not to linger between ruminating and procrastinating for too long, especially when you are not sure where you are. You may just be tired. Give yourself a break. Let it go. You may be mulling things over or procrastinating. Who cares which? Give it up for today and take it all up again tomorrow.
Frankly, that’s why it’s best to have a time limit of say 4-5 hours or less. Even with short breaks over that time your mind get’s tired, delivers fewer and fewer gems as you become less and less effective. You wind up ruminating, losing your train of thought and maybe procrastinating.
Get away from further activity on your project. This is especially important to do before you get to the stage where you are trying to decide how to name whatever bad habit you’ve lapsed into. You will usually observe by the next morning that your project seems to be more clearly focused in your mind — not a surprise.
While you seem to have a grip on the project you didn’t have yesterday, it’s time to write out an outline to help clarify things such that further ruminating, confusing, procrastinating episodes can be avoided or at least reduced. Make an outline that goes from the general main issues to the particular or more detailed, in-depth points of your subject. After that, write a short, one page essay magnifying each of the major in depth points of your outline. You may observe that you will drift and that similar words and phrases may overlap one major point with another. Try to edit and decide what really belongs where. Scratch out what really not belonging in one location and re-write it into another. Connect them if you like, but keep the main points separate.
After your 8-10 main points or more are fleshed out (edited down to one page for each), try to re-write the general major idea. See how much it changes from your original summarizing idea. It probably won’t change much, but you may understand it a little more clearly. Once you get to this stage you may observe that you more readily make progress to deeper levels of knowledge with far less lapsing into rumination and procrastination.