Some habits of effective scholars

[Picture from The lunacy of the long-distance runner, The Economist]

These pieces of advise were discovered in a variety of places and conversations. They are not ranked in importance, nor internally consistent, and are certainly not exhaustive. Perhaps some can be of some help to some of us?  – more suggestions are most welcome!

1 Don’t procrastinate. How? impose deadlines on yourself, or have others do so. Find something that you dislike even more than doing research, so you’ll research to postpone the worse task:

“. . anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” – Robert Benchley.

2 Do some research every work day, regardless of the many other tasks on your ‘to do’ list. This keeps your mind on the target – and reminds you of the ultimate purpose of much of the other stuff you do.

Jeffrey J. McDonnell extolls the value of a 1-hour slot for research every day.

The Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen has a fixed routine: he gets up as early as possible, brews two cups of coffee, and goes to his study and writes. When the cups are empty, he stops writing. “I’m satisfied if I’ve written half a page, perhaps one and a half pages.” (A-magasinet Dec 24, 2015)

While Vice President of the University of Oslo in the early 1980, the philosopher Knut Erik Tranøy would be writing on his next book on the philosophy of science for an hour every morning, before carrying out the responsibilities as vice president for the rest of the day.

3 Find and follow your research rythm. Do you think best before 9 am, or after 9 pm? Are you a research sprinter, or a marathoner: Do you get work done in spurts, or by steady slower grinding? Do you need deadlines, or do they stifle you?

“For many years I would mainly write up the results of my research during three weeks when I could be insulated from other work tasks and family obligations: Winter break, Easter vacation, and a week during the summer. Three weeks of writing, three published articles.” –Hege Skjeie, Professor of Political Science

“Find those hours of the day when your mind and power of concentration is best. For some it is early in the morning, for others it is in the middle of the night. Guard those hours, use them for interesting, demanding and rewarding academic work.” –Raino Malnes, Professor of Political Science, (Samfunnsviter’n 2015 3: 34)

“On summer vacations I get up early, and put in three hours of work before the family wakes up and I shift into a social holiday mode.

I always have a notebook for thoughts and ideas in my purse. I bring some work in progress along to seminars and on travels in case there is free time. I usually have several projects running in parallel, at different stages.” Fanny Duckert, Professor of Psychology

4 Sacrifice something: You can’t get something for nothing.  Some other interests will have to go – you decide which: some hobbies, some TV, some vacations

…. The road to success is paved with many funny websites not visited….

5 Writing is not a joy. Don’t believe otherwise, lest you postpone writing until it stops hurting. It won’t.
“Writing is easy. Just put a piece of paper in the typewriter and start bleeding.” -Thomas Wolfe [But see]

6 Keep at it. “Vincit qui patitur” – “They conquer who endure.”

7 Don’t be egoistic. Support colleagues, prioritize teaching – many find such exchanges helpful, fun, valuable – and kind.

8 Get a team of coaches: Build and use support groups who will criticise and stimulate your efforts, help you respond to nasty referee comments, help you express better what you meant to say all along…

9 Create a mental sanctuary: establish formal or informal barriers to keep yourself from the many petty yet fascinating interruptions.

  • Some maintain an e-mail free zone before lunch.
  • Jonathan Franzen has glued the ethernet port of his computer shut to prevent connection to the internet…

10 Don’t multi-task. For many of us, ‘multi-tasking’ is heavily overrated.

11 Read as much as necessary, and as good as you can, then stop and write instead. Read the best scholarship on the topic. Don’t waste time reading – or criticizing – stuff that you see has fundamental flaws … unless they were written by otherwise bright scholars. Then it may be intriguing and illuminating to explore how so brilliant thinkers made apparantly stupid mistakes.

Suggested readings:

George Akerlof: “Procrastination and Obedience”

Chrisoula Andreou (ed): The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination