Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success Posts from 2014 April

Richard Feynman Didn’t Win a Nobel by Responding Promptly to E-mails

April 20th, 2014 · 21 comments

Feynman’s Faux Irresponsibility

Around 38 minutes into the above interview, the late physicist Richard Feynman describes an unorthodox strategy for defending deep work:

“To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time…it needs a lot of concentration…if you have a job administrating anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don’t anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, ‘no,’ I tell them: I’m irresponsible.”

Feynman got away with this behavior because in research-oriented academia there’s a clear metric for judging merit: important publications. Feynman had a Nobel, so he didn’t have to be accessible.

There’s a lot that’s scary about having success and failure in your professional life reduce down to a small number of unambiguous metrics (this is something that academics share, improbably enough, with professional athletes).

But as Feynman’s example reminds us, there’s also something freeing about the clarity. If your professional value was objectively measured and clear, then you could more confidently sidestep actives that actively degrade your ability to do what you do well (think: constant connectivity, endless meetings, Power Point decks).

Put another way: if other knowledge work fields judged merit with the academic model, you’d probably find it a lot harder to get people to show up at your next project status meeting…even if you promised extra-fancy animations in your deck.


Hat Tip: Eric S.

Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

April 8th, 2014 · 88 comments


The Straight-A Method

In the early 2000’s, I was obsessed with study habits. The obsession began with my interest in performing well at Dartmouth, then eventually evolved into a (surprisingly popular) book.

Something I uncovered during this period is that high performing undergraduates, as a general rule, seem to internalize the following formula:

Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

This formula helps explain why some students can spend all night in the library and still struggle, while others never seem to crack a book but continually bust the curve. The time you spend “studying” is meaningless outside of the context of intensity. A small number of highly intense hours, for example, can potentially produce more results than a night of low-intensity highlighting.

(This is how I avoided all-nighters, for example, during my three year stretch of 4.0’s as an undergraduate.)

From Campus to Corporation

I’m mentioning this phenomenon because of the following observation:

The above formula applies to most cognitively demanding tasks.

In other words, intensity affects the productivity of a knowledge worker as much as it helps the GPA of a college student.

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