Brigid Schulte tweets a link to a Stephen Wolfram talk about “My Time with Richard Feynman.” Among other things, it has thing line about Feynman’s avoidance of busyness in favor of time to do serious thinking:
One thing about Feynman is that he went to some trouble to arrange his life so that he wasn’t particularly busy — and so he could just work on what he felt like. Usually he had a good supply of problems. Though sometimes his long-time assistant would say: “You should go and talk to him. Or he’s going to start working on trying to decode Mayan hieroglyphs again.” He always cultivated an air of irresponsibility. Though I would say more towards institutions than people.
And I was certainly very grateful that he spent considerable time trying to give me advice — even if I was not always great at taking it. One of the things he often said was that “peace of mind is the most important prerequisite for creative work.” And he thought one should do everything one could to achieve that. And he thought that meant, among other things, that one should always stay away from anything worldly, like management.
To do high, real good physics work you do need absolutely solid lengths of time, so that when you’re putting ideas together which are vague and hard to remember, it’s very much like building a house of cards and each of the cards is shaky, and if you forget one of them the whole thing collapses again. You don’t know how you got there and you have to build them up again, and if you’re interrupted and kind of forget half the idea of how the cards went together—your cards being different-type parts of the ideas, ideas of different kinds that have to go together to build up the idea—the main point is, you put the stuff together, it’s quite a tower and it’s easy [for it] to slip, it needs a lot of concentration—that is, solid time to think—and if you’ve got a job in administrating anything like that, then you don’t have the solid time. So I have invented another myth for myself—that I’m irresponsible.
Whether this particular strategy is one that anyone can use is debatable: I’ve had a couple women colleagues say that this is something guys can get away with, but they can’t, because of how such behavior is interpreted.
But the lesson that you need to do things to maintain time to let your mind do serious work– by which I mean time for serious conscious effort, and time for deliberate rest– is absolutely right on.