You get more done when you work less

According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in an excerpt from his book “REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

For all the attention the Berlin conservatory study has received, this part of the top students’ experiences—their sleep patterns, their attention to leisure, their cultivation of deliberate rest as a necessary complement of demanding, deliberate practice—goes unmentioned. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell focuses on the number of hours exceptional performers practice and says nothing about the fact that those students also slept an hour more, on average, than their less-accomplished peers, or that they took naps and long breaks.

This is not to say that Gladwell misread Ericsson’s study; he just glossed over that part. And he has lots of company. Everybody speed-reads through the discussion of sleep and leisure and argues about the 10,000 hours.

This illustrates a blind spot that scientists, scholars, and almost all of us share: a tendency to focus on focused work, to assume that the road to greater creativity is paved by life hacks, propped up by eccentric habits, or smoothed by Adderall or LSD. Those who research world-class performance focus only on what students do in the gym or track or practice room. Everybody focuses on the most obvious, measurable forms of work and tries to make those more effective and more productive. They don’t ask whether there are other ways to improve performance, and improve your life.

This is how we’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.

Active learning methods are more effective than lecturing

According to Mark Guzdial

Last year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencepublished a meta-analysis of 225 studies (see paper here). The conclusion appeared as the title of the paper, Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. There is increasing evidence that improved teaching reduces the achievement gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged students, e.g., in Biology (see paper here) and in Computer Science (see new paper here from ICER 2015).

Now, Nature has just published a paper (see it here), Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right, which includes the quote, “At this point it is unethical to teach any other way.” Wired magazine’s article on the active learning papers (see link here) makes the connection more explicit: “The impact of these data should be like the Surgeon General’s report on ‘Smoking and Health’ in 1964–-they should put to rest any debate about whether active learning is more effective than lecturing.”

It’s now a matter of science, not opinion. Active learning methods are more effective than lecturing. We should encourage use of active learning methods in our classrooms. The blog post linked here connects to resources for improved teaching methods in computer science. There are active learning methods that we can use even in large classes, like Peer Instruction (see PeerInstruction4CS.org).

Feedback — a rare and important mechanism behind success

According to

It’s undeniable that Ericsson identified an important mechanism behind success: feedback. Without feedback, “it’s very hard to imagine how people would get better,” he says. Feedback is rare. Life is not like chess. Most real-world situations don’t yield immediate returns. We’re free to make the same mistakes again and again. Take medicine, where Ericsson is trying to apply his insights. Many doctors will diagnose a patient and then not see that patient again. They’ll never know if they were right. “In those environments,” he says, “would you be able to learn?”

See also “Practice only makes perfect if you’re paying attention” and “Journey out of error“.

Ask for the hardest problems

According to Daniel Nenni, regarding the acquisition of Berkeley Design Automation by Mentor Graphics,

BDA built its business by literally asking leading-edge analog/mixed-signal (A/MS) design teams for the problems that no other simulator can handle and providing the solution. BDA would then move “downstream” to run circuit simulations that other simulators could run, but BDA’s Analog FastSPICE simulator would run them 5x-10x faster than any other foundry-certified simulator. They take the same approach to this day. (See BDA History)

Advice to a college freshman on not knowing what one wants to do

It’s rare to know what one wants to do. Maybe it would help ease your mind to contemplate that this apparent dilemma is actually one of the great luxuries of our modern age — because choice and freedom, far from being the inevitable state of affairs, is actually a huge cultural accomplishment, a gift to us from previous generations.

At this point in your career, I’d recommend emphasizing two priorities, one a skill, the other an attitude.

The skill is effective studying. A person can be very smart and hard working, yet be unaware of the most effective techniques, and so be stuck in first gear spinning their wheels. It’s odd that schools don’t have courses in this, since it’s the skill that underlies the rest of their mission.

The attitude is hard to name, but I’ll try some possibilities. Quality vs. quantity, or mastery, or everyday genius, or intensity. The idea is that once you commit to something, then hit it with 100% energy and concentration, instead of wasting your precious time. But don’t commit to too many things at once.

Instant kolinahr with TMS — pure logic

Are the higher levels of mental processing just clouds that a magnetic thinking cap could sweep away for a sunny day of pure logic? In “‘Super soldiers’: The quest for the ultimate human killing machine“, Michael Hanlon writes

One of the most bizarre neuroscience findings in recent years is that by immersing the human brain in a powerful magnetic field, its powers of reasoning and learning are almost magically enhanced.

No one knows exactly how “transcranial magnetic stimulation” (TMS) works, but the Australian neuroscientist Professor Allan Snyder believes that magnetic fields in some way “switch off” the higher levels of mental processing that normally cloud our thoughts, allowing a “pure” form of reasoning to take over.

“Each of us could draw like a professional, do lightning-fast arithmetic,” he says. In fact, some subjects in TMS experiments have acquired (temporarily) similar abilities to the rare “autistic savants”, people who are able to perform astounding arithmetical feats and memorise whole telephone directories (an autistic savant was played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man).

In 2009, a US Academy of Sciences report concluded that within 20 years we could be using TMS to enhance soldiers’ fighting capabilities. As Professor Moreno says, “there is talk of TMS machines being used on the battlefields within 10 years in vehicles and in 10 years more in helmets.”

Aside: Instant kolinahr‘s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head.