Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Finding time to think

3-Lessons we can learn with the way the world is

Every researcher knows the time taken to think how can we describe the physics of a certain event. But today, an email comes you really need to answer. A Skype message from a colleague or a student contains an important doubt. Someone knocks at you office and wants to chat about something. How can we find the time to think in a world filled with “urgent” distractions?

This happens to me all the time. In the evening, part of my daily routine is going through all the tasks planned in the previous day. Soon I find that some of them were simply left behind. And when I think about the reason for it, I remember all the times something other than what I had planned came up and need an answer. The world can be “noisy” if we cannot find a sense and meaning in the urgent which overcomes the planned.

Living the present moment means we try to give our best every minute of our day and be willing to accept contingent event as part of our plan. Expert in productivity state what gets scheduled, gets done. And contingencies can easily turn into distractions if you don’t find sense and meaning for them in our lives.

Darwin’s recipe to explain the world’s evolution was natural selection, contingency and time. Natural selection are the boundary conditions where the world’s interactions occurs. A river cannot “choose” where it flows. Heat transfer doesn’t occur from a cold to a hot surface. There are rules we must abide. Contingency brings the possibility of authentic novelty, unthought of, surprising and without it there would be no diversity and the beauty that comes with it. Time is the reason the universe evolves at all, and the thing we feel it’s always lacking.

If the world “found time to evolve”, what lessons can we learn from the way the world is?

I can identify at least 3-lessons.

Lesson n. 1

Follow the path you set for the day.

Have your day planned the day before. What productivity experts like Michael Hyatt remind us – “what gets scheduled, gets done” – is still the best way to deal with the distractions which deviates from the path we set in our research, where every minute is priceless because some physics requires a lot of thinking and focus.

Lesson n. 2

Welcome the novelty contingent events might bring to your day. 

Who knows what opportunities lie in the unexpected? A lot of major breakthroughs in science were unexpected. Think about Fleming’s penicillin, Spencer’s microwave, George de Mestral’s velcro and so many others.

Lesson n. 3

Don’t expect to find the right time to think.

Set your mind that the time is always right for the unexpected. In this way, we become willing to follow our plan for the day, as much as the unplanned the day sets for us through contingent events.

QUESTION: What about your experience? Whether you’re a researcher or not, can you find time to think in your day?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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