Einstein’s work habits weren’t always what you’d expect from a genius who reshaped our understanding of the universe.

Instead of focusing on a single task for extended periods, Einstein often shifted between various projects. When he encountered a roadblock in one problem, he’d set it aside and work on another. This method allowed his subconscious mind to continue processing the first problem while he consciously worked on something else. By the time he returned to the original problem, he often had a fresh perspective or a new insight.

Einstein also deeply appreciated the role of leisure and downtime in his creative process.

He was known for taking long walks, playing the violin, and even sailing. These activities, apart from being recreational, were meditative for him. They allowed his mind to wander, which is often when he’d have insights into complex physics problems.

A famous anecdote details how Einstein was once presented with a challenging problem during his time at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Instead of delving straight into it, he set it aside and played the piano. His colleagues were baffled. But for Einstein, this was part of the process. Engaging in another activity he was passionate about allowed his mind to approach the problem from new angles, untethered by conventional thought patterns.

In essence, Einstein’s work habits underscore the importance of letting our minds breathe, allowing room for seemingly unrelated activities to foster unexpected connections and solutions.

It’s what I like to call ‘productive procrastination’.

Of course, like any tool, productive procrastination has its caveats. It’s a delicate balance. The trick is to ensure that the alternative task you’re doing is genuinely productive, and not just a way to waste your time.

If you’re replacing writing a critical report with watching five episodes of your favourite TV show, that’s plain old procrastination. But if you’re organising your desk, answering pending emails, or taking a short walk to clear your mind, you’re leaning into the productive side.

The world today is inundated with distractions, from social media notifications to the incessant pings of emails. In such an environment, the idea of setting aside a primary task might sound counterproductive. But, as demonstrated by Einstein, our brains often work in mysterious ways.

It’s worth noting, though, that productive procrastination is not an excuse to indefinitely delay tasks. It’s about giving our minds the flexibility to juggle between tasks, trusting that sometimes, our subconscious is working even when we feel we aren’t.

Some of our best ideas come when we’re not actively thinking about the problem. Think of those ‘eureka’ moments in the shower or during a serene morning walk. They don’t happen by accident. They occur when the mind, having processed information in the background, finally connects the dots.

But let’s be honest, while Einstein was a genius, we’re not all Einsteins. What worked for him might not work for everyone. It’s essential to recognise when productive procrastination is beneficial and when it’s just avoidance in disguise. It requires a degree of self-awareness and honesty.

So, next time you find yourself stuck on a problem, give yourself permission to step back. Maybe play a musical instrument, doodle, or just go for a brisk walk. You might be surprised at the ideas and solutions that pop into your mind when you least expect them.

Remember, to move forward, sometimes you need to take a step sideways.

Quote of the Day

You can get a lot of work done if you stay with it and are excited and its play instead of work
Joseph Campbell

Tool of the Day

📱 Anki

Anki is a very powerful flashcard program that allows you to make your own cards or download decks created by other people. Crucially it uses an algorithm built around active recall and spaced repetition and learns as you progress through your studies and revision. I cannot emphasise enough how important active recall and spaced repetition are for studying and so to have it built into this app really is fantastic.