Relax! You’ll Be More Productive

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.

“To maximize gains from long-term practice,” Dr. Ericsson concluded, “individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

I’ve systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one.

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.

— Tony Schwartz, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive

Categories: Productivity    Tags:

Into the Woods

Cold Spring Park

A blog post I did for Random House over on Tumblr:

Does it help to see where a novel is set? Would you understand Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County any better if you actually visited his Mississippi? Is it even possible to understand Dickens if you have no idea what Victorian London looked like?…

The post includes this photo of Cold Spring Park, the setting of the murder in Defending Jacob. More photos of the park are here.

Categories: My Books    Tags: · ·

Support your indie bookstore!

“There are lots of reasons to support local businesses, whether it’s mom-and-pop hardware stores or neighborhood farmers’ markets. But when you buy from an independent bookseller, you’re doing something more. You’re helping to keep alive an important force in making our national literary culture more diverse, interesting and delightful. Your shelves are full of books that wouldn’t be there if not for indie booksellers you’ve never met, struggling to get by in shops you’ve never heard of. That’s why it’s so important to support the one next door.”

Laura Miller

Amen.

Categories: Books · Publishing    Tags: ·

The Just World Hypothesis

“Deep down, we believe this world is essentially just, which is why we look away when it’s not.”

Jonah Lehrer

Categories: Odds & Ends    Tags: ·

Grit

“What are the causes of success? …studies suggest that our most important talent is having a talent for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn’t fun…. Success is never easy. That’s why talent requires grit.”

Jonah Lehrer (follow-up here)

Categories: Creativity · Writing    Tags: · ·

Robert Campbell on Boston’s Human Scale

Boston’s Old State House … was a perfectly normal-sized building when it was erected, in 1713. But today, surrounded by skyscrapers, it is completely transformed. It possesses a new charm, a charm its architect could never have envisioned: the charm of a tiny jewel or an exquisite ivory carving. Or a child. Among the tall, blank, dark buildings that surround it, the Old State House, with its slightly loony ornaments — a lion and a unicorn — resembles a child in Halloween costume being escorted around the neighborhood by the FBI.

What is true of the Old State House as a building is equally true of Boston as a city. Once Boston, too, was a city of average scale. That’s not the case anymore, not when you compare Boston with the typical American megalopolis, with its vast, bleak stretches of freeway and strip malls. By contrast, we’ve become Tiny Town.

Quite literally so. Boston comprises just 46 square miles of total area. Phoenix is 324, Los Angeles, 465, Honolulu, 596. The new Denver airport is bigger than all of Boston. You could put Louisburg Square in the center strip of many American downtown arteries and forget where you’d left it; it would resemble a minor traffic island. Or take our so-called skyscrapers. No fewer than 12 other US cities boast towers higher than the Hancock, our tallest. Chicago and New York between them have 22. There are several reasons why our buildings are smaller, the most important of which is that most of Boston’s subsoil is muck, not bedrock like Manhattan’s. By the time technology had solved the foundation problem, Bostonians were used to their smaller scale.…

[O]ur perception of scale has a lot to do with our life cycle as human beings. We were all small once, and we all got bigger. In that sense, we are all Alice in Wonderland: In our imaginations and our dreams, we’re always growing and shrinking. When we were little, a table was huge; we couldn’t see over the top of it. The memory of being so overwhelmed is one reason we enjoy miniatures, like doll houses and architectural models.… Why else do we flock to the famous “Main Streets” at Disneyland and Walt Disney World? All the buildings along these streets are built at three-quarters the size they would be in real life. The Disney people always get us right: In a world grown too big, we gravitate to a street that is just a little bit too small. It makes us feel more important, and it makes the world feel more manageable.

…When the “wrong” size is too big, it may command awe. When it is too small, it will often inspire love.

Boston, more than any other major American city, is a place that is filled with opportunities for that kind of affection.

Robert Campbell, “Small Wonders

Categories: Boston    Tags: · ·

The Ignorance of Voters

Categories: Odds & Ends    Tags: · ·

Why working people vote Republican

A helpful if unsurprising explanation of a question that vexes liberals: why do ordinary working people consistently seem to vote against their own economic interests by voting for Republicans? At the Edge, psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains:

… the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer.

Check out the discussion of Haidt’s ideas as well.

Categories: Odds & Ends    Tags: ·

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Matthew Price reviews Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder, whose “subject is ‘political mass murder’ and the 14 million mostly civilian victims — women, children, the elderly — who were variously shot, starved, and gassed by the Germans and the Soviets between 1932 and 1945.”

At the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, a team of only 12 Soviet secret police kills 20,761 people outside of Moscow in 1937 and 1938, burying them in pits. “On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire,” Snyder tells us. And few readers are likely to be acquainted with the plight of Belarusians between 1941 and 1944. As the Germans rampaged through Belarus, they waged a war, in effect, against civilians. The death toll was staggering. Of 350,000 people killed in the anti-partisan campaign, some 90 per cent were unarmed. The Germans also killed half a million Belarusian Jews. “By the end of the of the war,” Snyder notes, “half the population of Belarus had either been killed or moved. This cannot be said of any other European country.”

Now and again, a voice of one of the perpetrators breaks through, to horrific effect. “During the first try, my hand trembled a bit as I shot, but one gets used to it,” a German policeman writes to his wife about his first experience shooting Jews. “Infants flew in great arcs through the air, and we shot them to pieces in flight, before their bodies fell into the pit and into the water.”

Categories: Book Reviews    Tags: · · ·

Philip Roth interviewed on “Fresh Air”

TERRY GROSS: So if [writing] is so hard, why do it?

PHILIP ROTH: Well, that’s a question I ask myself too. I’ve been doing it since 1955. So that’s 55 years. It’s hard to give up something you’ve been doing for 55 years, which has been at the center of your life, where you spend six, eight, sometimes ten hours a day. And I always have worked every day, and I’m kind of a maniac, you know. How could a maniac give up what he does? Tell me.

GROSS: Is that seven days a week, like Saturday and Sunday?

ROTH: Yeah, I usually do, yeah.

GROSS: That is obsessive.

ROTH: Maniacal.

GROSS: Maniacal?

ROTH: Give it its right name. It’s maniacal.

Via nprfreshair

Categories: Writing    Tags: · ·

The scope-severity paradox

The more victims, the less likely we are to respond.

[A recent study] is the first to show that the bias toward feeling empathy for a single individual versus many — known as the identifiable victim bias — causes people to make judgments based on emotion that are disproportionate to the severity of a crime.

“The inspiration for the study was the observation that we tend to focus an extraordinary amount of attention and resources to crimes that have a really small number of victims, and have a harder time remaining engaged to larger scale kinds of crime,” said psychologist Loran Nordgren of Northwestern University, lead author of the paper Aug. 25 in Social Psychological and Personality Science (.pdf).

The bias, which the researchers named the scope-severity paradox, has implications for a wide variety of fields, including the politics and media coverage of large-scale issues such as climate change or mass genocide.

“It fits well with a line of research that shows that as the number of people who are victims of some problem [rises] — whether it’s a crime or a famine — the responsiveness to it, and the likelihood of taking action to reduce the problem, decreases,” said psychologist Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon, who was not involved in the study.

It has to do with the way empathy works, Slovic said. People empathize with people by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. The more shoes there are, the harder it is to empathize with any single individual. People don’t multiply their feelings of empathy by the number of people involved.

Categories: Odds & Ends    Tags: