Emotions killing your intellectual productivity

I have written much about intellectual productivity on this blog. If we were machines running mechanical tasks, our productivity would be high. Alas we are human beings who get depressed or anxious. Even being excited about a new result can deprive you from productivity momentarily.

I am bad with emotions. I have a bad temper. I can literally scare people during meetings—or so I have been told. I have also suffered from depression: I have sometimes woken up late in the morning with the feeling of a dagger through my chest.

However, I have learned a few things:

  • Your own work will rarely generate lasting disturbing emotions. As a researcher, I sometimes waste time on dead-ends and get depressed. More rarely, I get overexcited over a breakthrough. However, these emotions are relatively easy to deal with. Even having your work being rejected—which happens to all of us—is something you can recover from quickly, given some experience. Science is not an emotional roller-coaster. At least, not for me. Mostly, I just grind through, patiently.
  • Most disturbing emotions come from my personal life or the rest of my professional life. Chairing committees, or participating in school politics is particularly difficult.

The most important point is that if you must get involved in stressful activities, make sure that they are far. Don’t do it at your primary place of employment.

When you work at home or at your job, keep things simple and relaxing. If you need to earn a living, do it well but without making a fuss. As much as possible, avoid confrontations with immediate co-workers and your immediate family. If you must get into a fight, do it with people who are far from you, such as people in other cities working for other employers.

Correspondingly, I have some coping strategies:

  • I read good novels.
  • I cook.
  • I drink red wine.
  • I garden, even during the winter: it is amazing what you can do with cheap fluorescent lamps.
  • I take my week-ends and evenings with my family.
  • I find that blogging helps me stay sane.
  • I write software as a hobby. Interaction with other programmer, even when they report bugs, is typically a pleasure.
  • I do some work on the house: over the years, I have learned how to repair or improve most things. I probably do not save a penny in the end, but doing the work myself keeps me happy.
  • I focus on research and teaching. They are both more rewarding and emotionally more stable than service or management work. My research involves little politics, but a lot of writing, coding and revising.
  • It is easier to organize a large conference than it is to chair even a small department. Simply because you are more independent from the results, emotionally. Service work is usually more rewarding and less difficult the further away it is. So, if you must get involved, avoid local committees.

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Daniel Lemire, "Emotions killing your intellectual productivity," in Daniel Lemire's blog, January 20, 2009.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

8 thoughts on “Emotions killing your intellectual productivity”

  1. Thanks Daniel for sharing your coping strategies. I like reading, cooking, teaching, mentoring and researching too.
    I enjoyed reading your posts and have since subscribed to your blog.
    I found networking with other educators highly rewarding. I have just created a new social/learning network aiming to share and discuss topics relating to technology, higher education and learning.
    Would you mind me inviting you to join our network on http://connectivismeducationlearning.ning.com/ ?
    Please feel free to visit my blog
    http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com for comments too.

  2. @gregorylent

    Oh! Yeah?
    Then we should see plenty of successful Buddhist scientists.
    It doesn’t appear so…

  3. “Thank god I am brain damaged.. I thought there was something wrong”.. I truly am.. and it is really harder to control my emotions now.. but at the same time I feel I have nothing to loose now. It is true that emotions don’t last, but you have to let them out.. and what I do aside from doing only the research I like, is takind the time to read, cook pastry, go fishing and sleep in the afternoon. You are so efficient afterward. I tell you it is really worted.

  4. Interesting post.

    I just had a paper rejected and I feel like all of my energy is drained. I find that going back and fixing up old work hurts my momentum. I hope this gets better with experience!

  5. “I drink red wine.” I’ve also found a bit of alcohol can help cheer me up. Cannabis can do that too, though it also seems to put my mind in a state where I can sometimes also gain perspective and insight to deal with the problem and my own feelings about it.

  6. I like your advice. 🙂

    We can also add more self satisfying task in our daily schedule. It will help balancing our emotional disturbance.

    I prefer to go to some general and technical forums and help people.

    A short or long walk kills bad energy.

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