The inverted U shaped curve of productivity

Over the years I discovered that there’s a inverted U-shaped relationship between how many things I need to do and how productive I am. With almost nothing to do I also get nothing done, because I’ll be procrastinating forever before I do that one thing that I need to do. The past few weeks I discovered that having too many things on my To Do List is also not beneficial for my productivity, because I just don’t know where to start. When I am trying to write I am constantly obsessing about all the other things that need to happen in too little time… And running three experiments at the same time makes it hard to not get sloppy. I’m trying to go back to the optimal amount of things on my to do list to be super efficient again!

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4 Comments

Filed under efficiency, life in the lab, procrastination, publishing papers

4 responses to “The inverted U shaped curve of productivity

  1. I find that putting tasks into bins helps. I am a morning person, more so now that I have a little one. I find that my focus is most keen from 8-11, so that's when I try to get lab work done. (As my old adviser said, if you don't have time to do it right the first time, you don't have time to do it twice because you've screwed up).

    I try to find some place quiet to read papers over lunch and I save the afternoon for number crunching, grant/paper revising etc.

    The evenings, after lil one goes to bed, are spent on email or mindless data file conversions etc.

    This schedule helps keep me on an even pace even with the ebb and flow of the work volume changes.

  2. completely agree, I don't remember a specific paper, but I think stress/CORT levels correlate with this inverted U curve for 'performance'. as in a little stress helps your presentation/test score/whatever, but too much stress damages it. It certainly seems subjectively true for me, anyway.

  3. Yes that's a good suggestion, to put tasks in bins. It's funny though that I also feel that I'm a morning person, but I try to get writing done in the morning, and experiments in the afternoon. However, a lot of the time I'll be running different experiments at the same time and then it's hard to make time for writing in the morning when I feel like I'm better at it.

  4. Yes I think you right about the stress and CORT levels. I try to make a to do list to reduce my stress because then I don't need to make a list in my head and constantly be afraid that I'm forgetting things, but when the list gets too long that's also stressful.

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