Sunday, 8 May 2011

Angel: Less focused and less productive

(Fourth in a series of blog posts written in response to this New Yorker article In Praise of Distraction)

Break times are okay and I agree with the idea to have a couple during the day, but you should to be careful if you spend all your day watching videos on YouTube, checking new fancy offers, status updating on Facebook or clicking follow icons on Twitter. The thing is not really rather you do this or do not, the issue is more related on which kind of distractions increase or decrease your performance. An article published by the New Yorker reports that free on-line access to viral social networks or e-websites is helpful to enhance concentration and productivity inside companies.

"..if we spend lots of energy controlling our impulses in one area, it becomes harder to control our impulses in others.."

I feel that extrapolate the concept of coffee break to Internet break sounds really awesome, but in the 1920s, time of the quantum and atomic physics' effervescent, there weren't any superfast broadband  or fancy smartphones, distractions were so far different. For example,  physicists lodged in the Bohr's Institute, three-story stucco residence with a roof of red tile, used to work hard and discuss new experiments or mathematical topics until late. Nevertheless, pin-pong or discussions over the charm of Danish girls during the meal or reviews on the latest film of Billy the Kid, were breaks of relax and talk about non-scientific matters. Even although, some of these topics weren't excluded to be analyzed using the scientific method,  for example the experimental testing, with toy pistols in hand, on the explanation of why the villain draw his gun after the hero does.

"Poor Casimir," said Rosenfeld. "He had to wait until the lovers had safely got over their troubles and married and all, before he could resume his calculations. He did not lose a second either: every time the lamps lit up, they invariably disclosed our friend bent over odd bits of paper and feverishly filling them with intricate formulae. The way he made the best of a desperate situation was truly admirable."

Making reference about science, scientist performance is related with the creativity in creation and resolution of questions, so the necessity of non-scientific activities or distractions is something important. For example, taking time to read something not totally related with our own work or taking time to have a short walk can help to clarify, organize and bring about  ideas to tackle a problem. Perhaps, this is the main reason why Albert Einstein loved to have long outdoors walks. In my case, reading about fiction and poetry or watch some pictures are helpful activities to encourage my creativity and make me feel enthusiastic about the things that human being can achieve.
Niels Bohr Institute in 2005 (
Niels Borh Institute in1920 (Emilio Segrè Visual Archives)

At the end, I think it's important to have some breaks but the way manage time plays an important role in what can be a waste of time or something that can increase your performance during your day. Finally, If you're interested in know more about human aspects of the scientist involved in the develop of the quantum theory take a look on the book by Barbara Lovett Cline: Men Who Made a New Physics: Physicists and the Quantum Theory.

No comments: