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You should never be busy and we should grab lunch.

This post was inspired from reading this article, and this article, both of which cover a lot of the points I discuss below. I'd still recommend reading both of them. In fact, if you only have time for two articles, read those. I'm writing this post to share some of my own personal strategies on the subject.

These readings went over two important points which I'd like to highlight:

  • Telling people you are busy all the time isn't necessarily a good thing. Its generally a sign of poor time management. Incredibly productive people know that performing activities that distract you from your work often help you tremendously with making progress at work.
  • I'll quote the second point since I can't really put it better than this: "some tasks tax your bandwidth even when you are not working on them — a looming deadline or a challenging decision call your mind away from whatever you're working on," while "other tasks do not tax bandwidth but refresh it. It may be time with family, watching a basketball game, time at the gym, or simply doing nothing." - Sendhil Mullainathan, Harvard Economics Professor on TIME.

I used to feel relatively bad when I would spend some time relaxing, until I was sitting at lunch with a few friends and I solved the roadblock I had hit when programming that morning -- I scrambled to scribble it down so I wouldn't forget. And then it happened again, and again, and again. I came to a very simple conclusion. Taking a break from the environment you are currently in can benefit your productivity. I love how Mullainathan phrases the idea of an activity contaminating your productivity, it can tax your bandwidth. It's not just about how long an activity takes, but also how free your mind is to perform said activity.

I also saw a case of this as I started my Ph.D, I had put together a schedule that i'll summarize below:

  • Monday: All day research.
  • Tuesday: All day research - with Linear Algebra from 12:00 - 1:30pm in between.
  • Wednesday: All day research.
  • Thursday: All day research - with Linear Algebra from 12:00 - 1:30pm in between.
  • Friday: Research in the morning, class from 12-5:00pm.

The one thing I began noticing my first few weeks working was that on Monday and Wednesday I would often get lost from my work after a few hours, and never really get back to being productive. On Tuesday and Thursdays however, I would be incredibly efficient both in the morning and the afternoon. It was no coincidence that this kept recurring. Linear Algebra was refreshing my bandwidth, whilst on Monday and Wednesday I was getting overloaded and then my productivity hit zero. 

Yes, I'm sure right now you're probably going, uhh, how is linear algebra a break? Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoy math, I mention this to illustrate the point that refreshing your bandwidth doesn't have to be unproductive activities, they simply have to be completely different activities (of course relaxing activities that don't require a lot of thinking are also needed from time to time in order not to burn out).

I do a lot of web programming, so going from programming one website to another website often doesn't help. I run into a lot of similar problems if the problems are similar and it doesn't relax my brain but if I switch from a programming task to finding some linear transformations, my mind clears up a lot quicker.

The more experience I get in this general realm of life, the more I realize that successful people are not really good at being focused 24/7 until they solve their problems. Successful people know how to manage their time so well that they know when to refresh their bandwidth to maintain their quality of work at solving a problem. It's a skill i'll probably work on for the rest of my career, but its nice to always give this idea some thought.

I hope this made you think of how you manage your bandwidth :),


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