History's most productive geniuses goofed off like crazy

In Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (published in 2016, just out in paperback), Alex Soojung-Kim Pang painstakingly investigates the working lives of the likes of Charles Darwin and finds that history's most productive high-performers were working about four hours a day and slacking off the rest of the time: napping, strolling, having leisurely lunches.

I'm a pretty productive person, and part of that is down to my figuring out how to turn my slacking (reading, arguing on the internet, looking at brutalist architecture photos) into work — a situation that is something of a mixed blessing for me.

According to Pang's book, the kind of working hours I'm putting in are historically unusual and likely harmful (which feels sadly plausible).

"It turned out that all these people went on long vacations and did hobbies, and their daily lives were a lot more leisurely than ours," Pang tells me. A 1951 study of scientists and technologists found the most productive ones worked 10 to 20 hours a week in the office, though they also worked some at home.

A languid pace can produce terrific results because rest allows us to gather our resources. Those long walks and hours pursuing hobbies breed deep reflection and creativity. And midafternoon naps? They're cognitive gold, as Sara Mednick, a sleep researcher at UC Irvine, has found. "They improve alertness, help consolidate information you learned earlier, and help with emotional regulation," she says.

Even a bit of procrastinating has its advantages. Being a moderate procrastinator may simply be your mind's way of demanding more space and time—or of focusing on things that really matter, which may not be Task No. 1 glaring at you balefully from atop your to-do list. (Philosopher John Perry calls this "structured procrastination.")

Why You Should Slack Off to Get Some Work Done [Clive Thompson/Wired]