- On days free for research, Littlewood recommends working at most five hours with breaks about every hour (for walks perhaps). Littlewood claims that without breaks one acquires the habit of slowing down unconsciously.
- Either work all out or rest completely. It is too easy to fritter a whole day away with the intention of working but never getting properly down to it.
- For a week without teaching duties, take one afternoon and the following day off. The day off should stay the same each week.
- Take three weeks of holiday at the beginning of each vacation. This period is necessary and sufficient for recovering from the severest mental fatigue.
- Morning work is far better than work done at other times of the day. From a certain point onwards, following severe concussion in 1918, Littlewood never worked after 6.30pm.
- Try to end your day's work in the middle of something; in a job of writing out, stop in the middle of a sentence. This will help warming up the morning after.
- An ominous symptom of overwork is an obsession with the importance of work, and filling every moment to that end.
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
J.E. Littlewood's take on "research strategy"
I really enjoyed reading the post Are You Working too Hard?, watched the linked videos and read some of the accompanying material from Uri Alon's web site. Whenever I stumble across this kind of material, I tend to go back to one of my favourite sources of inspiration related to the academic's art of work, namely the delightful piece The Mathematician's Art of Work by J.E. Littlewood. In that piece, "with a good deal of diffidence", Littlewood tries to give "some practical advice about research and the strategy it calls for." Here is a summary of his advice.
Posted by Luca Aceto at 1:41 pm