I am looking for two kinds of data about the great scientists of today,

  • Their average daily routine of work. Like how many hours and when?

  • Their average length of time of being able to think continuously.

I vaguely remember seeing a post by Terence Tao about this - like he mentioned that it takes him some x-minutes to focus on a question when he begins working. Though I don't remember if he mentioned any specific length of time for which he can concentrate at a stretch. [..sadly I can't find that post...]

I am more looking for examples among mathematicians and theoretical physicists though other theory fields might also look more or less the same.

  • I think the Terry Tao blog post you have in mind is terrytao.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/on-time-management. Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 23:29
  • I don't see it there. Can you kindly quote the line where he talks of this concentration time?
    – user6818
    Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 0:43
  • I was thinking of the following line. "...my ability to do any serious mathematics fluctuates greatly from day to day; sometimes I can think hard on a problem for an hour..." Of course you may have been thinking of another line (in another post). Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 9:22
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    this would vary too dramatically between disciplines and even between different directions. the number would not be very useful if you do not specify the area of study. for quickly developing areas, great minds are competing fiercely. most leading scientists would not sleep much, (except those that already won a nobel prize and turned their attention to non-research instead) otherwise they will inevitably fall behind. Commented Nov 30, 2013 at 15:41
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    @user6818 In theoretical chemical physics, because the nature of theoretical sciences, most professors go home and stay with kids and family at 6pm and never come to lab on weekends. However, they do read papers on weekends and if you email them, you get rather quick replies any time as long as he/she is not asleep. And of course nothing can stop them from going over equations in their head while playing with their kids. The only exception seems to be during football games. So, it is really difficult to count hours. Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 2:35

2 Answers 2


This popular book http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Rituals-How-Artists-Work/dp/0307273601 contains precisely descriptions of working routines of various creative people, including several scientists and mathematicians.


I don't have access to this article, but if you do, you might want to look into it:

Hargens, L. L. (1978). Relations between work habits, research technologies, and eminence in science. Work and Occupations, 5(1), 97-112. DOI: 10.1177/003803857800500106.

There is a fair amount of psychological research on eminence/genius/creativity out there, so work routine information might be available, but I'm a little more pessimistic about representative data on "average length of time of being able to think continuously" (partly because I'm unclear on what it would mean to think discontinuously). More general populations are more accessible, and some research may consider relationships between the factors you mentioned interested in and the factors that define your criterion group (e.g., intelligence, creativity, achievement, productivity). You might want to ask this again on the Cognitive Sciences site if you don't get the answer you're looking for here.

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