Working too hard is counterproductive

Interesting read, and I did not know that about Henry Ford.

Many people believe that weekends and the 40-hour workweek are some sort of great compromise between capitalism and hedonism, but that’s not historically accurate. They are actually the carefully considered outcome of profit-maximizing research by Henry Ford in the early part of the 20th century. He discovered that you could actually get more output out of people by having them work fewer days and fewer hours. Since then, other researchers have continued to study this phenomenon, including in more modern industries like game development.

The research is clear: beyond ~40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative. We have also demonstrated that though you can get more output for a few weeks during “crunch time” you still ultimately pay for it later when people inevitably need to recover. If you try to sustain crunch time for longer than that, you are merely creating the illusion of increased velocity. This is true at multiple levels of abstraction: the hours worked per week, the number of consecutive minutes of focus vs. rest time in a given session, and the amount of vacation days you take in a year.

Yes, you can be a good parent and a good scientist


The naysayers are wrong. I am a successful academic researcher and an active parent, and I am not the only one bucking the prophecies. As my future within the academy becomes more secure, I’ll be working even harder to support students and young faculty on their paths toward work-life success. I don’t want them to hear only defeatist talk, I want them to see a real-life model of “having it all.” I’ll never pretend it’s easy, just that it is achievable. And I’ll be working inside the system to make sure that’s true.

Workaholism isn't required for advancing in science

It's a complicated issue, but I like this perspective.

I began arriving an hour earlier, and staying an hour later. But at 8 am, the same people were already in working. And at 6 pm, they showed no signs of going home.

I’m the competitive sort, so I rose to the challenge. I cranked it up to 12-hour days, 7 am to 7 pm. But the same people were still in there before me and stayed after me.

This silent arms race escalated for another six months, at great personal strain.

But then I came to a realization. The additional hours were not translating into extra progress, but rather only into extra exhaustion. So I went back to working eight-hour days, before moving on a few years later to a faculty position at Harvard.

Mentoring and parenting

I do think, however, that undergoing adversity during academic training has left me better prepared for a career as a grant funded PI. I have said it before on these pages that I think my sole actual talent for this NIH grant game business is my ability to take a punch. That, I go on to argue, has much to do with my life experiences, most specifically the ones that occurred from graduate school through postdoctoral training.

Good advice on giving presentations from Matt Abrahams

Lots of gems here.

Paraphrase Your Previous Content Pausing to say, “So just to step back for a moment, I’ve already covered how X and Y are relevant … ” gives you a moment to remember point Z, and even frame it as a point you’ve been building toward.

Ask Your Audience a Question — Maybe Even a Rhetorical One “What seems to be the most important point so far?” Asking a rhetorical question not only provides you with a chance to collect your thoughts, but it also boosts your confidence because you know the answer, and launching into that answer will likely get you back in the flow.

Great academic career advice from Robert Sternberg

Take care of your health and relationships in addition to keeping perspective on science.

Take some risks. In your 60s and 70s, your biggest regrets are likely to be not about something you did, but about all the things you didn’t do, the opportunities you passed up. Faced with a "sensible" career risk, go for it. Grow from it. Some risks will fail. Some of mine certainly have. But you’ll be a wiser and better person for those failures, rather than someone who got stuck in a small world and was afraid to leave it.

The academic parent and "work-life balance"

Nice post from Aidan Horner.

The point I am trying to make is that a lot of talk about “balance” is directed towards cramming more stuff into the same number of hours. Instead I think we should talk more openly about what is and what isn’t important. What we can give up and what we need to maintain. Only then should we discuss how we can use the finite number of hours allotted to us to carry out the tasks that we have prioritised.

I wish I'd known then what I know now

Lots of great advice in the form of reflections—these ring true to me.

7 Be willing to take on tasks you’re not sure you’re completely qualified to do.

If you never do this, not only will you not discover what your strengths are but you also won’t ever acquire these additional skills. Should I be apologetic that the first Research Council committee I chaired I didn’t know what a lot of the acronyms meant when I first sat down to read the applications? No, I don’t think so.