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Time to Think

stressed.jpgSpare a thought for your poor over-worked neurons. In the information age, they are bombarded with input from the moment they are dragged into consciousness by the radio alarm clock each morning then throughout the day by e-mail, Google searches, RSS feeds, mobile phones, newspapers, books, blogs and more. In the post genomic era, it’s even worse if you are a bioscientist. The amount of data available literally at your fingertips via BLAST searches and the like is staggering. In this environment it’s easy for your mind to become overloaded, and an overloaded mind is no good for the logical and creative thought processes that are essential for effective science.

Not so long ago time to switch off and contemplate was easier to fit into the daily work-flow. Obtaining a re-print of a research paper meant a walk to the library to make a copy and looking up the meaning of a word entailed leafing through a dictionary instead of typing define over-worked” into Google. Without genome sequences and the internet, publication rates were lower and in the absence of e-mail and mobile phones, irrelevant chit-chat was far reduced. But it’s a new world now and to survive in an information-orientated field like science, to look after your brain and allow your creative and logical though processes to flow you need to adapt. That means actively inserting time for contemplation into your working day.

The art of contemplation is under-rated nowadays. It is not instantly gratifying, does not always yield results and requires you to go against the grain of a world (and probably a boss) that demands you “Do, Do, Do” rather than stop and think about what you are “Do, Do, Doing”. Take regular breaks from work, take a 20 minute walk at lunch-time, take the occasional 5 minutes during your working day to sit back in your chair, hands behind your head and gaze out of the window. Would this be acceptable in your work place? It should be. Those mind-opening minutes can be more productive than the hour you spend surgically extracting the spam from your in-box or overdosing on irrelevant feeds from your RSS aggregator (of course, Bitesize Bio is one of your essential feeds!). If you want to take it further, the Steve Pavlina and LifeHacker blogs are both mines of useful tips.

Remember, Archimedes came up with the law of hydrostatics while relaxing in his bath tub, Isaac Newton’s definition of the law of gravity was kick-started while stretched out under an apple tree and Kary Mullis first thought of PCR while driving along a coast road… so put down that pipette, turn off your computer and give your poor neurons a bit of tender loving care.

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