Not long after grad school, I realized that from here on out there will always be a manuscript or two I’m working on. There will likely never be a time when there is not something that needs to be written. Which meant that I needed to somehow find a way to balance writing with lab work, data analysis, math, and plain old thinking.
Since then, I’ve asked quite a few scientists about when they write and when they think. There’s lots of variation. One of my younger colleagues says he spends an hour or two every morning sitting on his office couch staring at his whiteboard, planning experiments. Another reserves his mornings for writing. Another, a father of two, cherishes the rare opportunities he gets to sit in a coffee shop and just think. Another works out his project ideas during boring talks.
I used to work a lot in the evenings at coffee shops and diners, but recently that hasn’t worked as well as it used to. Maybe it’s the coffee shops here, or maybe it’s that I drink more coffee in the morning than I ever have. In any case, these days I’m most most focused in the morning, right after the coffee kicks in. I’ve been trying to reserve that time for writing and statistics—things that require the most mental effort from me—in my home office, where there’s natural light, college radio, and a DIY whiteboard made from storm windows. Afternoons and evenings are for things like lab work and making figures, which I can pretty much do on mental autopilot.