Archive for the ‘productivity’ Category

I read an article in the New York Times this evening summarizing a position paper by a physiologist arguing that reticence about exercising in cold weather is largely a product of 1) misconceptions about the safety of exercising in the cold and 2) inappropriate dress–driven by misunderstanding the nature of our physiological response to cold–for cold-weather exercise. The author of the paper argues that exercising in the cold can be safe as long as you keep moving, you are sufficiently covered but not overdressed so much that you sweat, and you don’t overstress yourself by being paranoid of the cold.

This reminded me of a book I read recently by Ellen Langer entitled Mindfulness.  In this practitioner-oriented book, Langer summarizes over fifty social psychology studies that demonstrate how people live up to and within constraints that are frequently artificial and that are either placed on them by others or self-imposed. Langer cites the example of the paradigm shift that occurred when an athlete disproved the widely held belief that it was physically impossible for a human to run a mile in less than four minutes. Once it was accomplished, multiple athletes have accomplished similar feats over 100 times.

So whether its exercising in cold whether or running a mile in less than four minutes, it seems we (rather than the physical world) often define what is possible and what is impossible. I wonder if someday, we’re going to learn that humans really can hold more than 7 +/- 2 pieces of information in working memory at a time, or that it is possible to read several thousand words per minute.

In my own scholarship, perhaps I can look at applying this principle by setting incremental goals (i.e., to write 1,000 words per day for a month, 2,000 words per day for the following month, etc.). Obviously, quantity and verbosity doesn’t equate to quality and simplicity, but such an exercise would give  me more practice in my writing and allow me to exercise this aspect of my scholarship more.

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I was reading in the book Professors as Writers the other day about the reasons professors have a hard time writing diligently and productively. Robert Boice, the author, outlines a number of reasons based on years of research and consulting, and you can read the book for the specifics. As I see it, a lot of it boils down to fear; people are afraid of looking like an idiot, or–perhaps worse–they’re afraid that they’ll discover for themselves that they’re really not as talented as they thought. We’re afraid, so we run away. We find other things to occupy our time and make us feel busy and justify our inactivity. “I have to read some more about this topic first.” … “I need to do some more preparations for class.” … “I have to respond to this email.” “I have to get ready for that meeting.” The list goes on and on.

One problem with running away is that, when we fail to practice  because we’re afraid, our skill atrophies, and we become even more afraid. Fear and inactivity in writing lead into a downward spiral. We gain nothing from running away. Boice’s basic recommendations: set goals, practice writing consistently (every day or every other day), and practice showing your work to others before you think you’re ready.

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