Larks are more productive, while night owls are more creative

Friday, 27 November, 2015

The debate as to whether it is better to be an early bird, or a night owl, is bound to take plenty more twists and turns, until, who knows, people finally tire of the subject all together. I’m more night owl, and am pleased to have never subscribed to the various schools of thought that say we’re all early birds, or larks, and that there is no room for variance.

Whatever happened to each to their own? Some more thought on the topic though suggests that those who are early to rise tend to be more productive (so, that’s why I achieve so little), while night owls tend to be more creative. Seems to me the world needs a combination of both.

It’s all about what you’re doing with the time you have. Yes, early birds might be more productive, but late risers are more creative. Early risers take advantage of those morning hours to do mundane activities like go to the gym, make coffee and get to work early, but it’s the late sleepers who really take advantage of the night – the special time to create and invent something new.

As someone who is sitting down at ten o’clock most evenings to work on a writing project – no, it’s nothing to do with NaNoWriMo – this is a sentiment that makes a lot of sense.

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Sorry to say, the perfect job is not one that requires zero output

Tuesday, 24 November, 2015

Former newspaper writer Ted Geltner thought he had landed the perfect job, with a company writing in-house material for a range of its clients. But for one problem, there was no work to do, even though management carried on as if he were fully occupied.

Keen to extract something meaningful from the time spent at the office each day, Geltner resorted to engaging in, or organising, a variety of extracurricular activities… though that didn’t really help either:

With no way to shorten the endless hours of nothing, I began to create activities to pass the time. The company had a new health policy that encouraged walking. Pedometers were distributed. To capitalize on this, I tried to organize walking groups among the other editors. A few of them agreed to walk around the industrial park for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon. When a few of them began to beg off because of work, I became desperate and began pleading with them. Before long, the walking group was defunct.

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I was actually quite ill until my sickness was revealed to be a hoax

Friday, 13 November, 2015

If you’re going to, for whatever reason, fake an illness, and then begin posting about it online, again for whatever reason, be sure your deception doesn’t come to the attention of Taryn Wright, a Chicago based Futures trader by day, and hoax hunter the rest of the time:

In the last three years, I’ve chronicled 17 different hoaxes on my blog, often exposing the identities of the people behind them. A few of the hoaxers were scammers trying to make money, but the majority manipulated people online just for the attention that comes when you have a sob story.

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How high, if at all, do you get when looking at an artwork?

Friday, 13 November, 2015

It’s possible the artist who produced the last artwork you saw, may have taken a little something to enhance the creative process. Possibly. But here’s something, does looking at an artwork have a mind altering effect on a viewer? I’ve seen a few works of art in my time, and can’t say that I’ve noticed any sensations of the hallucinogenic sort, but that’s just me…

I guess you could get high on a very wet painting or some sort of experiential-based art work that required viewers to take drugs. But generally speaking the answer is no. Art can make you happy. It’s not going to turn you into some sort of all-knowing all-seeing super human with the munchies.

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Warning, reading this may be detrimental to your health

Tuesday, 10 November, 2015

I would like to read a bit more than I do, but between work, writing, and procrastinating, little time is left in the day for such things.

Maybe this difficultly in reading is not so bad though, thinkers and experts in such matters have had reservations about reading for millennia, fearing those who partook might be doing themselves all sorts of mental and emotional harm. Booksellers it seems were deemed to be especially vulnerable, on account of the volume of reading they surely did:

By the late 18th and early 19th century, science was invoked to legitimise health warnings about reading. In his Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the Diseases of the Mind (1812) – the first American text on psychiatry – Benjamin Rush, a founding father of the United States, noted that booksellers were peculiarly susceptible to mental derangement. Recasting Seneca’s ancient warnings in the language of psychology, Rush reported that booksellers were prone to mental illness because their profession required the “frequent and rapid transition of the mind from one subject to another”.

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Are intelligent people also happy people? Possibly not…

Friday, 6 November, 2015

Are smarter, that is, highly intelligent people, better off for their ability? In some regards, yes, quite possibly. That doesn’t mean they might be happier than others though, as they have a tendency to think, or worry, more about trivial sorts of matters than is the norm:

Constant worrying may, in fact, be a sign of intelligence – but not in the way these armchair philosophers had imagined. Interviewing students on campus about various topics of discussion, Alexander Penney at MacEwan University in Canada found that those with the higher IQ did indeed feel more anxiety throughout the day. Interestingly, most worries were mundane, day-to-day concerns, though; the high-IQ students were far more likely to be replaying an awkward conversation, than asking the “big questions”. “It’s not that their worries were more profound, but they are just worrying more often about more things,” says Penney. “If something negative happened, they thought about it more.”

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Will Wheaton’s life reboot, doing simple things isn’t always simple

Wednesday, 4 November, 2015

Wil Wheaton is a US actor, writer, and blogger. He is better known to me, and possibly many other people, as Wesley Crusher from TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was the on-screen son of USS Enterprise-D’s chief medical officer, Beverly Crusher. Recently Wheaton felt the need to make a few lifestyle changes, and resolved to do the following:

  • Drink less beer
  • Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading)
  • Write more
  • Watch more movies
  • Get better sleep
  • Eat better food
  • Exercise more

A fairly sensible set of self-improvement goals, in my opinion. There’s really nothing here that is so challenging that it is unobtainable, to the point that someone may feel compelled to give up on it, such as, for instance, attempting to scale the seven summits. That’s not to say they’d not slot into the deceptively simple, or, as the case may be, deceptively difficult, category though.

Giving up on something may be easier though than adopting a new activity. At least in terms of the time commitment. Drinking less beer is pretty straightforward, and means fewer trips to a liquor shop. That means doing nothing, or less. Simple. Wheaton apparently found this quite easy. It’s something I did a few years ago, almost completely accidentally though.

The path isn’t as smooth for everyone of course, and I count myself lucky that I didn’t notice any real before, or after, difference. Life went on as usual. Items such as reading and writing more however, have been on a to-do list for years, yet I struggle to make headway. Sure, I read a lot, but much of that would be considered “Reddit” material, and not books, which is the real aim.

Then I look at someone like Tyler Cowen, an economist, professor, author, and co-founder of Marginal Revolution, who also travels the world, but still manages to chew through an enviable number of books at the same time. Perhaps I am making an unfair comparison though, Cowen was also once an accomplished chess player, so possibly that explains his ability to do so much.

I do write a fair bit, so I don’t really need to add that to my list. Although I do. I’d like to complete a book manuscript, one that has been started, even if it is not to be published. While lack of progress there has been frustrating, I can point to the other writing work I do as the road block. Writing the novel is therefore a simple matter of relinquishing some paid work.

Why didn’t someone say so? Again Wheaton’s had little trouble with reading and writing more. He reasons that the two go hand in hand. In other words to write, one has to read. And he would be correct. A writer needs to read so as to be inspired. Much of what I write here comes about as a result of what I’ve read elsewhere, so sure, I’m reading and writing, even if I’d like to do more.

When it comes to movies, I see about three a week. That’s probably just right, considering I usually write about at least one of them. All up, that’s a time commitment of about eight hours, or an entire working day. Exercise, some running, is probably ok. It helps not owning a car, even though I drive a bit, but it means I probably walk a little more than the average car driver.

As for better sleep, who doesn’t desire that? There’s a lights out at midnight policy here during the week. That works except when it doesn’t. Inspiration refuses to adhere to a timetable, and too often manifests itself late in the evening. Then there’s eat better food. Oh yes, I’d like to dine in the fashion that the culinary jet set do. Ok, better sleep and eating need to go on my list.

Now it’s a simple matter of making it happen. I can read even one chapter of the book I have, and write three hundred manuscript words, at a minimum, each day. But I wonder how others might go, especially if starting from scratch. Making all seven items happen could be quite the challenge. Now I see why Wheaton calls it a life reset, and not a bunch of January resolutions.

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Beating substance addiction, a collective, not individual, effort?

Monday, 2 November, 2015

If the opposite of addiction is connection, then an addiction may arise as a result of a person’s surroundings, rather than on account of the particular substance they are abusing, this according to another way of looking at forms of dependency. To rally against addiction then, may require a fundamental change in the way we interact with others.

There are likely plenty of solutions to the problems in the world, and our own lives, it’s just that the answers may require far more thought and effort, than many are prepared to acknowledge.

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An expert, someone adept at dismissing new ideas and knowledge?

Monday, 2 November, 2015

I must have a degree of expertise in some field or other, but am reluctant to say so in as many words. Sure, I’m shooting myself in the foot, and doing little for my all important personal brand. As it happens, I may be doing so for good reason, those who consider themselves to be virtuosos can be impervious to new ideas and philosophies:

Victor Ottati at Loyola University and his colleagues manipulated their student participants to feel relative experts or novices in a chosen field, through easy questions like “Who is the current President of the United States?” or tough ones like “Who was Nixon’s initial Vice-President?” and through providing feedback to enforce the participants’ feelings of knowledge or ignorance. Those students manipulated to feel more expert subsequently acted less open-minded toward the same topic, as judged by their responses to items such as “I am open to considering other political viewpoints.”

Is it just me, or is this something you might have already come to suspect?

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Is our obsession with sleep keeping us from a good night’s sleep?

Thursday, 29 October, 2015

Sleep once used to be a simple matter. Conventional wisdom stated that we spent a third of our lives sleeping, which equated to about eight hours a day. That was pretty straightforward, and easy to follow, and left eight hours for work or study, and another eight for play. Or rather commuting, household and family duties, and then play, if you were lucky.

Then people began to think it about it more, because today sleep is all but trending. Was the norm really the norm, or should it be questioned? It was Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer, who in 1817 devised the slogan “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”, as part of a drive to bring about the introduction of an eight hour working day.

The politics of sleep, surely not?

Possibly though the notion was a little too socialist for some sensibilities, and required further examination. After all, late conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is said to have managed to get by on just four hours sleep a night, so maybe the rest of us should as well, meaning the work day could be extended to twelve hours duration instead? Then again, no.

It’s to hard to know when earnest evaluation of the eight hour sleep concept began, or thought to how much sleep – full stop – was required, given eight hours has only been the convention for a relatively short span of our history. Or why, for that matter. Sleep is vital for our health and well being, so it’s something people are interested in. Maybe that’s the reason.

Eight hours sleep sure, but not all at once

In his book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published in 2005, Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech, said that during medieval times, while people used to sleep for eight hours, it was not continuous. Typically sleep was broken into two four hour periods, and in-between, people would be active for up to two hours, before going back to bed.

I wonder how much thought people of the day gave to this segmented pattern of sleep. Was it a case of “eight hours labour, six hours recreation, four hours first rest, two hours recreation, four hours second rest”? I doubt it, but the idea of broken slumber has merit, and after a few hours sleep, people were more energised. A boon for intimacy, perhaps. Or creative pursuits even.

We can thank the light bulb, and the internet, for less sleep

While we once may have slept for eight hours, albeit with an intermission, there has been concern that the arrival of electricity, and the light bulb, began cutting into this time, leading the world to its apparent sleep derived state. Recent research carried out by Jerome Siegel, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, finds this may not quite be the case though.

Siegel studied the sleep habits of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies in Africa and Bolivia, and found that generally these people sleep for six and a half hours, and perhaps an hour more in winter. And nor did they retire at sunset, with some staying awake, by the light of the fire, for three and half hours afterwards. So much for artificial lighting disrupting our “eight hours” sleep.

So who do we look to for guidance in this matter?

There’s a lot to be learned from the people in the world who are going places, or in their time, did. I’m talking about the likes of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Richard Branson of Virgin, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, Marissa Mayer the CEO of Yahoo!, US polymath Benjamin Franklin, TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres, and Barack Obama.

Guidance you will find, but not consistency. According to this infograpic of sleep routines of the successful and influential, by Homearena, the amount of sleep per night can vary from five to eight hours. Does that mean light bulbs and the internet affect some of these people, but not others? I doubt it. Instead, I’m beginning to think it’s different strokes for different folks.

Go your own way

Forget the studies, the headlines, the trending topics on social media, because it seems to me that sleeping patterns are individual to each of us. If medieval segmented sleep works for you, go for it. Likewise eight hours straight. Or four hours. All things remaining equal, do what is right for you, if you can. It’s time to stop to talking about sleep, I think, so we can all get some sleep.

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