Darwin was lazy, and it wouldn't hurt you either

Original author: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
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Many famous scientists have something in common: they did not work for many hours a day.


Studying the life of the most creative people in history, you come across a paradox: they dedicated their work all their lives, but not all day. Such different people as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincare and Ingmar Bergman worked in disparate areas at different times, all of them had a passion for their work, huge ambitions and almost superhuman ability to concentrate. But if we examine in detail their daily life, it turns out that they spent only a few hours a day on what is considered their most important work. The rest of the time they climbed the mountains, slept, walked with friends, or just sat and pondered. Their creativity and productivity were not the results of endless hours of hard work. Their achievements come from a modest amount of working hours.

How did they achieve everything? Can a generation brought up with confidence in the need for an 80-hour work week to succeed learn something from the example of life of people who laid the foundations of chaos theory, topology, or wrote Great Expectations ?

I think maybe. If the greatest figures in history have not worked many hours a day, then perhaps the key to their creative abilities will be understanding not only how they worked, but how they relaxed and how these two activities are connected.


Let's start by studying the lives of two figures. Both have achieved major success in life. And how fortunate were the neighbors and friends, living close by, in the village of Down, south-east of London. And, in different ways, their lives give us a look at how work, rest, and creativity are connected.

Imagine, for a start, a silent, cloaked figure walking home along a path winding through the countryside. Sometimes in the morning he walks with his head down, lost in his thoughts. Sometimes he walks slowly, stopping to listen to the sounds of the forest. He followed this habit in the tropical forests of Brazil, during his service as a naturalist in the Royal Navy, collecting animals, studying the geography and geology of South America, laying the foundations of a career that would reach the top with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. Now Charles Darwin has grown old, and has moved from gathering to theoretical work. His ability to move silently reflects his concentration and need for silence. According to his son Francis, Darwin could move so quietly that he once “walked over to a fox, playing with its cubs,

If the same foxes met Darwin's neighbor, John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury , they would retreat, saving their skin. Lubbock liked to start the day with a walk through the countryside in the company of his hunting dogs. If Darwin was a bit like Mr. Bennett from " Pride and Prejudice"- a respectable gentleman of moderate means, polite and honest, but preferring a company of family and books, Lubbock looked more like Mr. Bingley, an extrovert, enthusiast rich enough to advance in society and life. Over the years, Darwin was tormented by various diseases; Lubbock and after 60 demonstrated “relaxed grace, typical of an 18-year-old student,” as one of his guests said. But the neighbors shared a love for science, even though their work differed no less than their personalities.

After the morning walk and breakfast, by 8 o'clock Darwin was already in his office, and worked for an hour and a half. At 9:30 he read the morning mail and wrote letters. At 10:30, he returned to more serious work, sometimes moving into an aviary with birds, a greenhouse, or other structure in which he conducted his experiments. By noon, he declared that "the work was finished for today," and went for a walk along the sandy path that he had laid shortly after buying Down House.. She partly walked the land leased to him by the Lubbock family. Returning an hour later with something, Darwin had dinner, and again answered the letters. At 15 o'clock he went to sleep a little. An hour later, he got up, walked along the path once more, and returned to the office, after which at 17:30 he joined his wife, Emma and their family at dinner. In such a graphic, he wrote 19 books, including technical literature on creeping plants, sea ducks and other topics; controversial work "The origin of man and sexual selection"; "The Origin of Species" is probably the most famous book in the history of science, which still influences how we envision nature and ourselves.

Whoever studied this graph, he could not immediately pay attention to the paradox. Darwin's life revolved around science. Since his student days, Darwin has devoted himself to scientific gathering, research, and theories. She and Emma moved to the countryside from London, so that they had more room for the family and for scientific work. Dawn House provided him with a place for laboratories and greenhouses, while the countryside provided him with the peace and quiet necessary for work. But at the same time, his days do not seem to us very busy. That time, which we would call “work,” consisted of three 90-minute intervals. If he was a modern university professor, he would be denied a permanent academic position. If he worked in a commercial organization, he would be fired a week later.

Not that Darwin didn’t care about time or lacked ambition. Darwin extremely strictly watched the time, and, despite the means at his disposal, he believed that time should not be wasted. Traveling around the world aboard the Beagle , he wrote to his sister, Susan Elizabeth, that "a person who dares to spend an hour of his life did not understand her value." When he was wondering if he should get married, one of the moments he was concerned about was “wasting time — there was no time to read in the evenings,” and in his journals he noted the time lost to chronic diseases. His love of science was “reinforced by the desire to earn the respect of my fellow naturalists,” he admitted in his autobiography. He was passionate and enthusiastic, so much so that he sometimes experienced panic attacks in connection with his ideas and their consequences.

John Lubbock is much less known than Darwin, but by the time of his death in 1912 he was “one of the most successful English amateur scientists, one of the most prolific and successful authors of his time, one of the most convinced social reformers, and one of the most successful lawyers in the new history of Parliament. " Lubbock's research interests extended to paleontology, animal psychology and entomology — he invented an ant farm — but his most constant work was archeology. His works popularized the terms "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic", used by archaeologists to this day. His purchase of AveburyThe ancient settlement southwest of London, has retained local stone monuments from being destroyed by builders. Today, he is comparable in popularity and archaeological importance with Stonehenge, and the preservation of this place brought him the title of Baron Avebury in 1900.

Lubbock's achievements are not limited to science. From his father, he inherited a successful bank, and turned it into the real power of the financial world of the late Victorian period. He helped to modernize the British banking system. He spent decades in Parliament, where he was a successful and respected legislator. His bibliography includes 29 books, many of which have become bestsellers and have been translated into many languages. The exorbitant volume of his works did not lose comparison, even with his most successful contemporaries. “How do you find time” for science, writing, politics and business, “remains a mystery to me,” Darwin told him in 1881.

It is tempting to present Lubbock as the equivalent of a modern, highly motivated alpha male, something like Tony Stark insteampunk surroundings. But here's the catch: his political fame rested on the propaganda of leisure. British bank holidays - four public holidays - were invented by him, and they, having entered into force in 1871, consolidated his reputation. They were so loved and so strongly associated with him that in the press they were called “the days of St. Lubbock. For decades, he fought for the adoption of the “law on the short working day”, which limited the working time of people under 18 years to 74 hours! and when it was finally adopted in April 1903, 30 years after the start of the struggle, it was called "Avebury law."

Lubbock himself behaved according to his convictions. It may have been difficult to comply with such a schedule at Parliament meetings when debates and ballots could linger long after midnight, but he got up at 6:30 in his High Elms estate and, after prayers, riding and breakfast, began work at 8: thirty. He divided the day into half-hour blocks - he adopted this habit from his father. After a long practice, he could switch his attention from the “entangled financial issue” of his partners or clients to “such a task of biology as parthenogenesis” without blinking an eye. Around noon, he spent a couple of hours outdoors. He enthusiastically played cricket, and regularly invited professional players to his estate as coaches. His younger brothers played football; two of them took part in the final of the very first FA Cup in 1872.Five , a game like handball, in which he excelled at Eton. Later, after playing golf, Lubbock replaced the cricket ground on his estate with a 9-hole golf course.

Despite the differences in character and achievements Both Darwin and Lubbock were able to do what is now considered to be more and more unusual. Their lives were full, their works were astounding, and yet their days were filled with inaction.

It looks like a contradiction, or balance, unattainable for most of us. But it is not. As we shall see, Darwin, Lubbock, and other creative and fruitful personalities did not succeed in spite of free time; they succeeded thanks to him. And even in today's world of round-the-clock presence, we can learn how to combine work and rest in order to become smarter, more creative and happier.

According to a well-known study, the best students on the violin were not those who were most involved, but those who knew when to stop.

Darwin is not the only known scientist who combined the dedication of life to science with a short daily work. Similar cases can be traced in many other careers, and for several reasons it is better to start doing this with scientists. Science is a highly competitive and all-consuming occupation. The achievements of scientists - the number of articles and books, awards, number of citations of works - are strictly documented, and they are easy to measure and compare. As a result, their legacy is easier to identify than the legacy of business leaders or celebrities. At the same time, scientific disciplines differ from each other, which gives us useful diversity in work habits and personality traits. In addition, most scientists have not been subject to the emergence of myths, usually surrounding business leaders and politicians.

Finally, some scientists themselves were interested in how work and rest influence thinking and inspiration. One example of such scholars is Henri Poincare, a French mathematician, whose social position and achievements take him to the same level as Darwin. His 30 books and 500 papers cover areas such as number theory, topology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, theoretical and practical physics, and philosophy. The American mathematician Eric Temple Bell described him as "the last universalist." He participated in the standardization of time zones, in the construction of railways in the north of France (by education he was a mining engineer), served as chief inspector in the technological building and was a professor at the Sorbonne.

Poincaré was not only famous among his colleagues. In 1895, along with the writer Emile Zola, sculptors Auguste Rodin and Jules Dahl, and composer Kamilkm Saint-Saens, he was studied by French psychologist Edouard Toulouse as part of his work on the psychology of a genius. Toulouse noted that Poincaré worked on a very smooth schedule. He spent the most difficult thoughts from 10 to 12, and then from 17 to 19. The greatest mathematical genius of the nineteenth century spent no more time on work than was necessary to understand the problem — about 4 hours a day.

We see the same scheme in other mathematicians. Godfrey Harold Hardy, one of the leading mathematicians of Britain in the first half of the 20th century, began the day with a leisurely breakfast and reading the results of cricket matches, then from 9 to 13 plunged into mathematics. After lunch, he went for a walk and played tennis. “Four hours of creative work a day is the maximum for a mathematician,” he told his friend and colleague, Oxford professor KP Snow. John Edensor Littlewood, who worked with Hardy for a long time, believed that the concentration required for serious work suggests that a mathematician can work "four, maximum five hours a day, with breaks every hour (for example, for a walk)." Littlewood was known for having always rested on Sundays, stating that this ensured that he had new ideas for returning to work on Monday.

Observation of the scheme of work of scientists, conducted in the early 1950s, showed approximately the same results. The professors of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr, watched their colleagues, fixing their working habits and schedules, and then built a graph that correlated the number of hours spent in the office with the number of published articles. You might think that such a graph looks like a straight line showing that the more hours a scientist works, the more articles he publishes. But it is not. The data looked like a curve in the form of a letter M. It initially grew rapidly, and experienced a maximum between 10 and 20 hours a week. Then she walked down. Scientists who spent 25 hours a week at work were no more productive than those who spent 5. Scientists who worked 35 hours a week

Then the curve began to grow again, but not so fast. Workaholic researchers who spent 50 hours a week in the lab were able to pull themselves out of the 35-hour valley. They turned out to be as productive as those who spent five hours a week in the laboratory. Van Zelst and Kerr thought that this 50-hour mound was concentrated in “physical studies that required the continuous use of bulky equipment”, and that most of the time of these 10-hour working days, people were busy servicing the machines, sometimes taking measurements.

After that, the schedule went down. Scientists who spent at work 60 hours a week or more turned out to be the least productive.

Van Zelst and Kerr also asked colleagues, “how many hours on a typical workday is homework that contributes to the efficient execution of your work,” and plotted responses. This time they saw not M, but one maximum in the region of 3 - 3.5 hours per day. Unfortunately, they did not say anything about the total number of work hours in the office and at home. They only mentioned the possibility that the most productive researchers “do most of their creative work at home or somewhere else” than on the territory of the institute. If we assume that the most productive scientists work equally at home and in the office, it turns out that they work from 25 to 38 hours per week. For a six-hour work week, this gives an average of 4-6 hours per day.

Similar work statistics of 4-5 hours a day can be found in the lives of writers. The German writer and Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Mann, developed his daily schedule by 1910, when he was 35 years old, and published the famous novel “Buddenbrooks” . Mann began his day at 9, settled in an office with a strict rule for homework not to distract him, and first worked on narratives. After lunch, "the daytime was meant for reading, handling mountains of correspondence and walking," he said. After an hour of sleep during the day and the subsequent tea, he spent an hour or two working on small pieces and editing.

Anthony Trollop, the great English writer of the XIX century, also adhered to strict graphics. He described the work schedule he had worked out at Waltham House, where he lived from 1859 to 1871. At 5 o'clock in the morning a servant came to him with coffee. First, he read everything he did last day, then, at 5:30, he started the clock on the table and started writing. He wrote 1000 words per hour, an average of 40 pages per week, up to 8 hours, when it was time to go to his usual work. Working in this way, he published 47 short stories before his death in 1882 at the age of 67, although he did not make it clear that he regarded his achievements as something unusual. After all, his mother, who started writing financial support for his family at the age of over 50, has published more than 100 books. He wrote: “I think all those who lived

A clear Trollop schedule is comparable to that of his contemporaries, Charles Dickens. After Dickens, when he was young, did not go to bed late at night, he settled on a chart that was “as methodical or precise” as that of the “city clerk,” according to his son Charlie. Dickens closed in the office from 9 to 14, with a lunch break. Most of his stories were printed in parts in magazines, and Dickens rarely outpaced the publication schedule and illustrator by more than a chapter or two. And, nevertheless, having worked for five hours, Dickens would end there.

Perhaps such a discipline may seem to you a consequence of Victorian rigor, but many fruitful writers of the 20th century worked the same way. Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz worked as a government official, and usually wrote fiction from 16 to 19 hours. Canadian writer Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature from 2013, wrote from 8 to 11 in the morning. Australian novelist Peter Carey talked about work every day: "I think three hours is enough." Such a schedule allowed him to write 13 novels, including two who took the Booker Prize. William Somerset Maugham worked "just four hours a day," until 1:00 pm - but "never less," he added. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote every day for five hours. Ernest Hemingway began work at 6 am and finished no later than noon. In the absence of serious deadlines, Sol Bellow went to his office after breakfast, wrote before dinner, and then looked through what he did in the morning. Irish writer Edna O'Brien worked in the morning, "stopped at 13-14 o'clock, and spent the rest of the day for worldly concerns." Stephen King describes the day on which he writes and reads 5-6 hours as "stressful."

Karl Anders Erickson, Ralph Kramp and Clemens Tesch-Römer observed similar results by exploring how violin students studied at the Berlin Conservatory in the 1980s. Scientists were interested in what distinguishes outstanding students from the crowd just good ones. After talking with the students and their teachers, having studied the diaries of students' work, they found that the best students had something to highlight.

First, they not only practiced more, but did it consciously. According to Erickson, during a conscious training session, you “with full concentration do actions that improve the technique of performance”. You do not just repeat the scale or train movement. Conscious activities involve structure, concentration, they have clear goals and feedback. They require attention to what you are doing and observation of how you can improve your performance. Students can study in this way when they have a clear plan for greatness, a certain understanding of the fact that they share brilliant work and good, or winners from losers. Such classes, in which it is necessary to perform the task in the shortest time, with the highest score or most elegantly solving the problem, constitute conscious practice.

Secondly, you must have a goal for which you are ready to practice daily. Conscious practice is not a very interesting activity, and the return does not come immediately. To do this, you need to come to the pool before dawn, work on your swing or gait, when you can hang out with friends, practice your fingers or breathe in a windowless room, spend hours improving parts that almost nobody will notice. Conscious practice is not inherent in instant pleasure, so you need the feeling that this long work will pay off, and that you are not just improving your career opportunities, but creating a professional personality. You do not just do it for a thick wad of money. You do this because it enhances your sense of yourself and the sense of who you want to be.

The idea of ​​conscious practice and measurements of Erickson and other amounts of time that world-class performers spend on classes has attracted a lot of attention. This study is the basis of Malcolm Gladwel's argument and his book “Geniuses and Outsiders” that 10,000 hours of practice are needed to achieve perfection, and that all great people, from Bobby Fischer to Bill Gates and Beatles members, have worked their 10,000 hours to as long as the world heard of them. For coaches, music teachers and parents, this number promises a gold-paved road to the NFL, Juilliard or MIT: start from a young age, take their work, do not let them give up. In a culture that considers stress and recycling virtues, 10,000 is an impressive number.

But Erickson and others noted in their study and something else - something that almost everyone did not pay attention. "Conscious practice requires effort that can be sustained for a limited number of hours per day." If you practice too little, you will never achieve world class. If you practice too much, you risk getting hurt, burned out, or exhaust yourself. For success, students need to “avoid exhaustion” and “limit the practice to such a period of time after which they can fully recover daily and weekly.”

How do the greatest students use a limited amount of practice hours? The rhythm of their classes is subject to a clear pattern. They work more hours a week, but not at the expense of lengthening the daily activities. They make more frequent and short approaches, 80-90 minutes, with half-hour breaks.

If you add up such a schedule, we get 4 hours a day. Darwin spent roughly the same amount of time doing his hard work, Hardy and Littlewood doing the math, Dickens and King writing the books. Even the most ambitious students in the best schools in the world, preparing for a fight in a competitive area, are able to concentrate and give all the best for 4 hours a day.

The upper limit, according to Erickson, is not determined by “the available time, but by the available mental and physical resources”. Students did not just study for 4 hours, and finish. Lectures, listening, homework and everything else took them all day. In an interview, they said that "the limit to the time of daily work was their ability to maintain concentration." Therefore, it takes ten years for 10,000 hours. If you can maintain concentration only for 4 hours a day, you have 20 hours a week (except weekends), and 1000 hours a year (with a two-week vacation).

The importance of conscious practice is illustrated not only by the lives of musicians. Ray Bradbury seriously took up writing in 1932 and wrote 1,000 words a day. “For ten years I wrote at least one story a week,” he recalls, but they did not want to unite with each other. Finally, in 1942, he wrote "The Lake." Years later, he still remembers this moment.

“Ten years of irregular work suddenly turned into the right idea, the right scene, the right characters, the right day, the right time for creativity. I wrote a story sitting outside on the lawn with my typewriter. By the end of an hour the story was over, my hair was on my neck, and I was in tears. I realized that I wrote the first really good story in my whole life. ”

Erickson and his colleagues observed something else that separated the great students from the good ones, except for more hours of study. This moment has since been almost completely ignored. This is how they rested.

The best performers slept an average of an hour more than the average. They did not get up later, they slept during the day. Of course, different people had different things, but the best students usually worked harder and longest in the morning, slept in the afternoon, and then studied again in the afternoon.

The researchers also asked students to notice the amount of time spent on practice, classes, and everything else, and keep a diary during the week. Comparing the results of interviews with diaries, they found an interesting anomaly.

Just good violinists underestimated the number of hours they spent in a state of rest. They believed that they rested 15 hours a week, although in fact they rested almost twice as much. The best violinists, on the contrary, could fairly accurately estimate the time they spent on rest, about 25 hours. The best performers spent more effort on organizing time, thinking about how they would spend their time, and evaluating what they had already done.

In other words, the best students used the habits of conscious practice - concentration, the ability to evaluate their own performance, a sense of the value of their time and the need to spend it wisely. They found the great value of conscious rest. They learned early on its importance, that the best creative work is better when our breaks allow the subconscious to switch off, and that we can learn to rest better. Conscious leisure at the conservatory is a partner of deliberate practice. And also in the studio, in the laboratory and in the publishing house. As Dickens, Poincaré and Darwin discovered, everything is important. Both of these classes make up the halves of a whole creative life.


And, despite all the attention devoted to the study of students of the Berlin Conservatory, its part associated with sleep, attention to rest, the use of conscious growth as a necessary part of conscious practice, is not mentioned anywhere. Malcolm Gladwave's “Geniuses and Outsiders” focus on the number of hours spent practicing and say that successful students also slept an hour longer, that they slept during the day and took breaks.

This is not to say that Gladwell misread the study. He just missed part of it. And he is not alone. Everyone skips the discussion of sleep and rest and concentrates on 10,000 hours.

This blind spot is inherent in scientists, humanities and almost all of us: the tendency to focus on work, on the assumptions that the road to improvement consists of tricks, eccentric habits, or the taking of Adderall / LSD. World-class exploratory researchers concentrate only on what people do in the gym, on the track or in the training room. All concentrate on the most obvious and measurable forms of work, trying to make them more efficient and productive. But no one asks if there are other ways to improve efficiency and life.

This is how we began to believe that world-class performance is achieved in 10,000 hours of practice. But it is not. It is achieved in 10,000 hours of conscious practice, 12,500 hours of conscious rest and 30,000 hours of sleep.

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