Why You Can’t Be Creative and Check Your Facebook Page At The Same Time

isolator-500pxAt universities and research organizations today, there is a very common buzzword (a word or phrase that has become popular, like a slogan): collaboration. Collaboration refers to working with others to share ideas, with the aim (goal) of creating something better.

Some scientists, however, are pushing back (resisting). They say that collaboration on the scientists’ own terms (done when they want to, in the way they want to) is fine, but what some call “enforced interaction” — working and communicating with others when you don’t want to — might actually be standing in the way of (preventing) scientific progress.

An organization called Silences of Science was formed (started) to push back against this trend for collaboration and constant communication. Its website says that it “aims (tries) to remind the research community of the creative importance of silence, of interruptions in communication, of isolation and of ‘stuckness’.” Isolation refers to being alone, away from other people. Being stuck means feeling like you can’t move forward because you don’t know how to solve a problem.

A recent article cited (reported) the case of Peter Higgs, the 2013 winner of a Nobel prize for his work on the the Higgs boson, work done primarily (mainly) in the 1960s. Higgs said that the peace and quiet he had to work in those days no longer exists today.

Felicity Mellor, one of the co-founders (one of two or more people who began the organization) of Silences of Science and a professor at the Imperial College London, says that Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton also liked to work alone. Newton in particular (especially) liked to shut himself away (close the door and not see others) and work in isolation. He showed his work to very few people and only published his work reluctantly (without really wanting to). In fact, he only published Principia, his three-volume (three book) work with the laws and theories he’s known for today and regarded as (seen as; believed to be) one of the most important scientific works in the history of science, after much urging (others saying he should).

Other researchers have talked about the importance of what Cal Newport calls “deep work“: periods of very focused concentration when your most important and creative work gets done. Deep work cannot be done when other people are talking to you or in a meeting. It can’t happen when you’re constantly checking your Facebook page and watching cat videos on YouTube. It requires silence and, more often than not, isolation from the environment around you.

When do you get your most important or creative work of the day done?

– Jeff

*Caption below the photo says: “The author at work in his private study (office) aided by (helped by) The Isolator (that thing over his head!). Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease (easily) upon the subject at hand (what he’s working on ).” I’m going to get myself one of those soon.

Photo Credit: Study Hacks, a blog by Cal Newport

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26 Responses to Why You Can’t Be Creative and Check Your Facebook Page At The Same Time

  1. emiliano says:

    At night, alone, for years and years. That´s was the magic hour to think and
    write, also to be quite in silence while everyone it is inside the bed.

    That was when I could be off from daily work at the Bank without having
    to get up at 6.30 a.m. at the morning.

    Thank you dear Jeff.


  2. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Hello nice people, we’re here again for this very lesson telling us how things can be. As always, Jeff brings us an important topic, this time about doing more than one thing at the same time. Only robots can do that, and you, I think, is not a robot, are you? No! It was good to hear about two great scientists named Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, who liked to work alone, without enviroment noises. Really, noises don’t fit with studies. OK people, I stay here waiting for the next episode.
    Aecio from beautiful Brazil where world cup will take place next week and Brazil is going to rise the cup. I hope so!

  3. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Not twice!

  4. Fardowsa Dayib says:

    I am one the person who cant deal with noise environment. For quite time do complete work it really depend on type of work I am doing; if it is house work I might not care about noisy however if its school work I must have quite time where I don’t get any disruption. The best time to get done is evening and morning when I wake up from sleep. I have seen people who really don’t care about quite time and I wished I could my homework while listening music because a very little niose affect my concentration. I have similar trait as Newton I shut myself away and work in Isolation.
    Thank you Dr. Jeff

  5. Chicha says:

    I totally agree that some kinds of work should be done alone.
    From my experience as an Accounting student at university, I’d rather shut myself away when it comes to doing Accounting homework than do it with my friends.
    Whenever I work on my assignments with other fellow students, I always get distracted easily and take a longer time to finish.

  6. Tania says:

    Hi! We have the same tradition when we graduate the high school: a class banquet.
    But this year something strange has happened. I have listened to the news on TV.
    Proms (we call it yet class banquet) began and in our elite colleges from our capital
    meaning in fact that you are rich and well bred.
    Most students spended a lot of money planning the evening at a luxury restaurant.
    For the first time I have heard that they have rented limousines arriving in style.
    For sure we will have and Prom Dress Shops with luxury items as soon as possible.

  7. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for the explanation of the phrases “on the very day” and
    “on the very first day”.

  8. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    First of all I had o check whether Mr Hugo Gernsback and his invention really existed or not. It did!

    Well, I am not sure about that “head condom” but at least it is funny and made me have a good laugh.

    I guess that a scientist working on something “big” it is also afraid that someone else is going to steals his findings/research.

    So, it is good having some sort of collaboration, but to a certain point.

    Jeff, I do not need to get creative or have my job done, ’cause I am always done/creative already. I was borne done and creative.

    I am as efficient and hardworking like 100 Germans and 100 Chinese combined together. At my workplace I am the N.1.

    Is that enough? 😉

    Anyway, that is one of the prices we have to pay for having these pieces of technology in our pockets. We are constantly busy looking at it.

    The other one is apparently our privacy.

    Thank you Jeff. Look forward to reading you’ll guys.

  9. Tania says:

    Hi! Difficult to me these two verbs “to warrant” and “to warn”.
    I just know “warranty” in a commercial contract and “warning signal”.

    Thank you and for the words: stuntman, stuntwoman and many others.

  10. Tania says:

    Hi! Many, many new phrases to me in “Being Modest and Boastful”.
    Thank you.

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! When I heard the word “rep” I was thinking about rap music.

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! Telling us about Amelia Earhart, an American aviator, aviation pioneer and author,
    I knew that it was about Amelia Earhart from TV Movie 1976.
    I liked the movie less the end. Too sad for people so great.
    I like her quote:
    “Women must try to do things as men have tried.
    When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! May I share with you some Amelia Earhart’s quotes?

    “Everyone has ocean’s to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe.
    But what do dreams know of boundaries?”

    “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.
    The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do.
    You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

    “Being alone is scary, but not as scary as feeling alone in a relationship.”

    “The most effective way to do it is to do it.”

    “…decide…whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved.
    If it is, stop worrying…”

  14. Tania says:

    Isolation, being alone, is benefic in art, literature, philosophy for contemplation in silence.
    The study requires silence, without outside noises but not isolation of your co-workers.
    In science field, the team work is important. No one can know all.
    It is necessary a good collaboration, in my opinion.

  15. Tania says:

    Hi! It could be a good joke with the photo of the “Isolator”.
    But I know myself how much the noise can affect you.
    I work better in silence, a total silence.
    I love the silence of night, just silence having a good sleep.

  16. Betty says:

    Good morning, Dear Jeff,

    I have finally caught up (or slowed down) with you in terms of time, because I have travelled through this time machine and arrived in LA yesterday.

    Although it is 5am in LA, it is 8pm in Hong Kong, so I am wide awake.

    I should have all these quiet/silent hours to write here, for about ten days.

    It is very strange that I’ve come so close to my dear teachers Jeff, Lucy and Warren, but I dare not to come to see you all.

    Even when I have travelled through the time machine, like what happens in the film “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” I watched in-flight on my way here yesterday, I haven’t turned myself into a real Angelinos.

    You see, I’m afraid when my teachers talk at a normal speed, I won’t be able to follow and they don’t have the time in the whole world to slow down for me.

    Besides, I don’t know how to greet my teachers.

    I prefer to shake hands, no hugs and kisses, but what if they think I am rude.

    In fact, I don’t even like to shake hands because I have very rough hand skin – probably because I had done too much handstand as a little child.

    I used to put a lot of hand cream on when I first started working in the office, just to make sure that I didn’t give people a shock when they shook hands with me.

    I have inherited very soft and pale facial skin from my parents, but the rough skin on my hands don’t match that.

    Anyway, I may bump into you in LA, Jeff, I will certainly come up to you and bow my head.

    Sorry Lucy and Warren I won’t know even if you and me were in the same restaurant last night. I haven’t seen your picture in all the ESLPOD.com’s anniversary videos. Although in the cartoon anniversary video last year Jeff says Lucy looks exactly the same in real life, it is still hard for me to picture how she looks like in real life.

    Many thanks again Jeff, I have enjoyed this article very much.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  17. Betty says:

    Jeff the clock in your website is one hour too slow.

    It was 5:01 am in LA when I submitted my post above. But it showed as 4:01 am.

    So you try to start working an hour later than you should?

    Haha, just joking, Jeff.

    As Peter in Toronto says all the time, you are the chief, you are the boss, you decide what time it is in your website.

    Betty 🙂

  18. emiliano says:

    Betty, are you really in L.A.?
    May I ask you, what are you doing over there my friend?

    Please, being so, please give Jeff, the boss, a strong kiss just the same as to Lucy or
    Warren on behalf of all us the Blog´s and ESL friends, you are the best person to
    represent us in front of our teachers.

    Good for you dear Betty, I am looking forward reading you story in L.A., California.

    Have a good time. emiliano

  19. Charles says:

    Hello. I am interested in using these fantastic Krashenesque podcasts.

    I wonder if anyone has organised them into themes or into levels?

    Are there some episodes which are more suited to the Beginner level for example?

  20. Betty says:

    Hi Emiliano. I am honoured to be chosen to represent my fellow learners to give our dearest teachers a big strong kiss.

    I am afraid I am the worst person on earth to be given this significant duty. However, I promise, Emiliano, I’ll bow my head to Jeff if I bump into him. This is our way to show respect to our teachers.

    Thank you Dan for telling me Gandhi’s great teaching “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”.

    I am doing exactly that. Living for the moment and Learning forever and ever.

    I have been listening and reading from this website about US and it’s places. Today I have a chance to see them in person.

    I have always wanted to come to LA since my elder daughter came to study here two years ago. I have the chance to do that together with my younger daughter now. When fate allows, it happens.

    Emiliano I am just taking it easy in LA. My daughter’s friend was very eager to take me and my younger daughter to as many places as possible. But I am happy enough to do just nothing but sitting in some nice restaurants and watching all the girls chatting.

    There is no need to rush around, I have learned all about them from the internet and from this website, haven’t I?

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  21. Betty says:

    Dear Tania, thanks for your message for me about Latin Dance.

    I had never learned any dancing before in my life until now.

    A few weeks ago, someone I know asked anyone interested to take up Latin Dance, she said there was one more space available in the class. I thought, I had never learned any dancing before, why not?

    I am glad I had taken up this challenge in life. It’s one of the best learning experience for me.

    Tania you must know a lot about dancing. Do you dance a lot?

    You know, Tania, I like your method of learning. You write down what you have learned from our teachers here, and then you remember them better. Am I right?

    To me, you are both active and academic.

    Nice talking to you.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  22. Dan says:

    I there Betty.

    Please, try to go and see La Brea Tar Pits. That would be one of my first thing to see over there.

    Are you kidding! you are the best one to represent all of us. Betty! Betty! Betty! …clapping my hands.. and the cat clapping its paws.

    We are all proud of out dear Betty even though she has rough hands skin, we know she has a sweet and gentle heart and a very open and curious mind.

    Bye! wish you to have a good time.

    Ps. The skin on my hands is pretty much perfect as in the rest of my body.

  23. emiliano says:

    Dear Betty, thank you, you are the best tp represent us.
    Sure you are going to have nice time and incredible surprises.

    Give Jeff, Lucy and Warren all Cuca/emiliano´s love.


  24. emiliano says:

    Betty, you are doing just what I was afraid of doing a year ago, it is true as before going to London
    I was thinking on going to S.Francisco and Los Angeles, but after so many years without
    traveling looking after my dear Cuca and having to travel without her some how I was afraid
    of giving the great jump.
    It seems to me a very long and complicated trip beside too expensive, so the best option was
    just going to London and see this incredible city.

    Next july I am going to Germany, Berlin and other cities of this country that I want to see before
    I could be too old.
    A city I want to see in Germany is Dresden, the city that was destroyed along the second world
    After that it was rebuilt again stone by stone trying to build the same city it was before the big
    bombing attack.

    Meanwhile try to be happy and enjoy the city as much as possible, it is sure you will have nice
    moments with our teachers.

    Letter by letter, word by word, I say to you the same like Dan.


  25. MMC says:

    I am happy for you dear Betty

    Have good time in beautiful Los Angeles

    Like Dan I wish some day see La Brea
    Tar Pits.

  26. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    You’re right, I think when you have a deep work to do,it is important to do that in a peace and quiet place.
    I mean you probably work better than a loud place or if you do several things at the same time.
    In my workplace that is an open office, You need some times the peace, especially when the work demand a deep concentration.

    For that, sometimes, I move to our meeting room, thus I find the quiet.
    So I can work better and faster !

    See you soon


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