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Thread: On not working too much

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    On not working too much

    Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too – Nautilus Magazine – Medium - "Many famous scientists have something in common — they didn’t work long hours"
    When you examine the lives of history’s most creative figures, you are immediately confronted with a paradox: They organize their lives around their work, but not their days.

    Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest “working” hours.

    How did they manage to be so accomplished? Can a generation raised to believe that 80-hour workweeks are necessary for success learn something from the lives of the people who laid the foundations of chaos theory and topology or wrote Great Expectations?

    I think we can. If some of history’s greatest figures didn’t put in immensely long hours, maybe the key to unlocking the secret of their creativity lies in understanding not just how they labored but how they rested, and how the two relate.
    Then two notable 19th cy. British gentlemen, Charles Darwin and John Lubbock. Both of them were very productive, yet both of them had plenty of downtime in their days. The article then gets into discussion of scientists' productivity, because their productivity is relatively quantifiable, and because some scientists themselves have addressed that issue. Mathematician Henri Poincaré worked 10 am to noon, then 5 pm to 7 pm -- 4 hours a day. G.H. Hardy liked to work from 9 am to 1 pm -- also 4 hours a day. His colleague John Littlewood estimated that the most that a mathematician could productively work each day was 4 hours or maybe 5 hours.

    In the early 1950's, Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professors Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr plotted number of articles as a function of hours in one's office. Rather surprisingly, it was a M-shaped curve, with the first peak at 10 to 20 hours per week. Working 25 hpw was only as productive as working 5 hpw, and working 35 hpw only half as productive as working 20 hpw. There was a modest peak at 50 hpw, then a decline, with 60 hpw researchers having very low productivity. Examining hours worked outside of one's office, they found a simple peak at 3 to 3.5 hours per day. For 6 days a week, this adds up to 4 to 6 hours per day.

    Several notable writers have also worked 4 to 5 hours per day. In the 1980's, Karl Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer discovered a similar pattern in violin students at a conservatory in Berlin. The best ones tended to practice around 4 hours a day, in bursts of 1 1/2 hours, separated by 1/2-hour breaks. They would often practice in the morning, take a nap in the afternoon, and then practice again in the evening.

    Malcolm Gladwell concluded from this and other studies that anyone very expert has done some 10,000 hours of practice. But he neglected to notice all the rest that came with it.
    This illustrates a blind spot that scientists, scholars, and almost all of us share: a tendency to focus on focused work, to assume that the road to greater creativity is paved by life hacks, propped up by eccentric habits, or smoothed by Adderall or LSD. Those who research world-class performance focus only on what students do in the gym or track or practice room. Everybody focuses on the most obvious, measurable forms of work and tries to make those more effective and more productive. They don’t ask whether there are other ways to improve performance, and improve your life.

    This is how we’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.

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    Productivity is a function of doing effective work multiplied by time. Work smarter, not harder kind of thing.

    You need the capacity to do good work in the first place, but once you have that capacity rest and relaxation is just as important to doing good work as the work itself. After a while the mind fatigues and burns out, needing breaks like any other part of the body.

    There's also the story of the busy person who spends all of their time doing pointless tasks, giving the illusion of productivity, when they're not really accomplishing anything.

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