As he was doing research for his book, published author and Georgetown University Computer Sciences Professor Cal Newport discovered that many straight-A students spent less time studying than most people thought.
Newport breaks it down on his blog:
If this sounds unbelievable, it is probably because you subscribe to the following formula:
work accomplished = time spent studying
The more time you study the more work you accomplish. The more work you accomplish, the better your grades. Ergo, straight A’s imply more work. Right? Then how do you explain me and my interview subjects…
To understand our accomplishment, you must understand the following, more accurate formula:
work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus
To further illustrate his point, Newport shares an example:
Intensity of Focus over Time for Marathon Session Approach
hour 1 : 10
hour 2 : 9
hour 3 : 5
hour 4 : 2
hour 5-10 : 1
[For math geeks, this is standard exponential decay.]
If we take the area under this curve, we see that the pseudo-worker has accomplished: 32 units of work.
Now let’s consider another approach. Assume, instead, that you break up the paper writing into two bursts. One burst you do for two hours Saturday afternoon. The other burst you do for two hours on Sunday morning. The long gap in between ensures your focus can recharge. Following the rates of focus decay used above, your chart looks like:
Intensity of Focus over Time for Short Burst Approach
hour 1 (sat) : 10
hour 2 (sat) : 9
hour 3 (sun) : 10
hour 4 (sun) : 9
Clearly, this work schedule is much less painful. Just two hours at a time. And a whole day separating the two sessions. However, when we calculate the area under this curve, we see that the short burst approach accomplished: 38 units of work!
Don’t expect better results simply by putting in more hours, and don’t do ineffective pseudo-work just because it makes you feel productive (or less guilty). Instead, work in short bursts in order to make sure your focus gets a recharge and become more effective and efficient.