Friday 24 April 2015

The 4-Hour Scientist

Tim Ferris' 4-Hour Workweek is the ultimate treatise on how to work less. For most of us in science, eliminating work is not the utmost goal, as many of us like what we are doing. But there are still a number of things we can learn. First, making a dent into the cushion of your office chair is not an end in itself, and there is no reason why you should do this for eight hours every day. And as I would argue not even the number of papers is a good measure for personal success as a scientist. Anyway, whether your goals are to have more free time, to spend time with your family, to train for a sports event, or if you are really just trying to boost your publication list, here are some tips as inspired by the book.

Work less, think more. What we are supposed to do is science, after all.

Automatize. Repetitive things can be programmed. If you don't know how to, take a day off and learn basic bash and python.

Email less. Email is one of the worst time killers and procrastination excuses. Always finish an actual task first before you even think about opening your emails. Then close them really quickly, get back to work, and go home at 4 p.m.

Focus. Pick two tasks for the day, finish them and go home. Eliminate your "task switching costs" and do not give yourself any excuses to drift off.

Prioritize. Work and payoff are not linearly related. As the story goes, 20% of peapods in Pareto's garden produced 80% of the peas. And 80% of your output probably comes from 20% of your work. Find those 20% and eliminate the rest. On the other hand 80% of your sleepless nights may derive from just 20% of your projects - eliminate those as well.

I would argue that focusing on doing important things rather than many things will provide you with an advantageous scientific profile. And eliminating the hopeless tasks may even increase your output. And even if not, it is time to relax. If toiling all day, doing dull things while stressing yourself out is really the only way to get ahead in science, why would you want that?

But is there a moral obligation to work a lot? Am I somehow tricking my sponsors if I don't work "enough"? Well, the dent in my office chair is really not what counts.

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