Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#6 Warm-up Time

 
(3/9/98)

Folks:

Paul Humke, professor of mathematics at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN talks about reducing warm-up time for important tasks by always keeping something on the burner. John Hennessy, dean of the School of Engineering at Stanford University offers a related suggestion that he has found particularly helpful.

--------------------Warm-up Time, 297 words ---------------------

According to Humke:

If I let my work lie dormant for a month or two, or in some cases even a week or two, my efficiency drops tremendously. When I get back to work, I find myself spending a great deal of time bringing myself up to speed with the work I did previously. T o put it in mathematical terms:

WUT = k exp(TL),

or warm-up time necessary to return to a problem increases exponentially with the time that has lapsed since I last worked on it.

My colleagues and I have also discovered that the value of "k" increases with chronological age. I have a friend, a very good professor, who noted that when he was young he'd spend five minutes "warming-up" and then he was ready to work. When he was a bit older, he had to spend twenty minutes warming up, and now he says he seems to spend all his time warming up!

To reduce my warm-up time I find that it is important to have a problem I can work on whenever I have a spare minute. I realize research often takes long periods of concentrated work, but I find it helps me a great deal to have some aspect of my probl em to think about when I have a free minute or two, when the party becomes dull, or my lunch date fails to show up.

According to Hennessy:

I need to keep my creativity cycles free, and the best way to do this is to have something to work on in my head when I am walking across campus, sitting in a dull meeting, and riding in a car. Doing so also keeps me from thinking about a lot of trivi al, negative stuff that isn't helpful anyway.

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What are your experiences with keeping your work going? Do you have any other suggestions to share with the rest of us?

Your thoughts, comments, and suggestions are most welcome.

Rick Reis

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