Patience and Focus

Field work isn’t always the thrill-a-minute rollercoaster lifestyle one might at a glance presume it to be. A lot of times you’re alone in a field watching water slowly fill a container while a small machine ticks numbers away. And you have to stand there…. and wait for enough time to pass in between readings…. Once you’ve done that for about a week, you’re just so super-duper bored that it feels like if you were to measure time with an hourglass, you could watch individual grains of sand hover in the air. It’s in those moments, when your brain goes into sleep mode as a means of self-preservation, that mistakes can very easily be made.

The necessity for the attention to detail in this profession cannot be understated. If you go sampling EMW-044 instead of MW-044 or MW-404 instead of MW-040A, and then you pack and ship those samples off and the lab runs the analyses and no one catches the mistake for 3 weeks, well you might have just caused a minor catastrophe. The world may keep spinning, but you’ve cost time, money, and resources and you’re about to cost more when someone needs to go back through to redo it properly. Here’s some helpful tips to prevent those oversights from a guy with a minor case of self-diagnosed ADHD.

Do it right then! Whatever that thing is you’re thinking about that you need to get done before you forget it, do that thing. As soon as that thing blips up on your mind radar, run straight at it, because if you don’t catch that rabbit of a thought it’s going to make it to the tree line and then it’s gone. I’ve already lost two other points I wanted to make while I was working my way through that rabbit analogy. Oh! Now I remember…

Take notes! Write everything down and put it somewhere you’re going to see it. You get zero points if you write a reminder then space on it. Taking notes then losing them is the physical equivalent of forgetting something. Sticky notes on your vehicle’s dash, alarms on your phone, whatever it takes. I’ve set sampling equipment in front of doors to make it physically impossible for me to leave without it. Small fire hazard maybe, but I didn’t forget it. Set yourself little reminder boobytraps laying around for you to stub your memory toe on.

Mnemonic devices: they’re dumb and they work. Here’s a story: Once we had a shed with a number pad combination lock. That number pad was total garbage. Buttons only registered half the time if you were lucky. The code to the shed was 5050. The reason I remembered that was because even if you knew the code, you still only had a 50/50 chance of getting into that shed. And now, in the off chance you’ve read this far, there’s a decent chance you too will remember the code to some old shed because of that dumb story I just told. Mnemonic devices are memory techniques dating back to the ancient Greeks that act as memory aids to help translate pieces of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Tricking my brain into doing work is about the only way I can get it to do anything at all, so these things are fantastic for me.

A final piece of advice is to know yourself. I’ve been doing this for so long, at this point I can look at a crucial instruction or pivotal piece of information and think to myself “There’s absolutely no way I’m going to remember that.” Once you can identify your weaknesses, it’s just a matter of shoring them up by through mindfulness and being proactive, diligence through note taking, and with the help of techniques that aid in information retention and retrieval.