What makes a great scientist? Part 3: “slacking”

Presentation1Last week a number of people shared an article about how Darwin was a slacker and we should be too in diverse social media. This is close to an idea I have already written about in a previous entry (“Procrastinating for inspiration“) also based on another article I had read at the time. I feel it is a very suitable topic for my on-going blog series on What makes a great scientist? (wanna read part 1 and part 2?) so here is Part 3. The cheeky title is “slacking” but I really want to talk about time management (some more reading here and here).

I particularly want to make two points today. The first is related to the topic of my former post: our brain needs distractions to be focused (an oxymoron?). We need walks, sports, artistic hobbies to have the best and most creative ideas. Working four hours a day will not make you Darwin, but working 12 is not going to do it either. So find time for distraction, find time for boredom, find time to let your brain do its job. Great scientists do.

The second point relates to what being a slacker means in terms of realistic time management. Great scientists are not just those who have great ideas, but also those you want to have around, discuss ideas with, enjoy coffee breaks, have as mentors/students. Those are people with lives outside work. I remember in Graduate School a colleague was complaining (although perhaps she was actually bragging) about working 11 hours and on weekends too. I was not doing that and I felt maybe I was doing “something wrong”, until a little voice in my brain whisper “yet you are progressing better than her”. I then realized that staying longer at work and coming to work on the weekends is not the same as WORKING 11 hours each day. I personally think it is not possible to truly work 11 hours in academia (on a regular basis). Sure there can be pressure times: field work, deadlines, marking times, all of which that can take you close to that limit. But that is (relatively) short-term. In my experience no one can efficiently work for that long and do a good job (I am not denying their existence, just describing the evidence I have). So you may be 11 hours at the office, but Are you working? Or better said, Could you organize your time more efficiently so you can get all that is needed done in 8?

Efficient time management goes beyond avoiding distractions (cannot help to link to wikihow here!) and needs task management. Separating what really needs to be done from what could wait, or (oh shocker!) be completely ignored. And also realizing perfection is unachievable. Even what needs to be done can be done in different ways (levels of perfection). Set your priorities, be strategic about your time/energy investment, and yes, drop what you can. Then use that time to go for a walk. Be more like Darwin and slack off.

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