Living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I did for many years after college, I learned to recognize a curious ritual. Come June, the academic offices of Harvard and MIT would clear out as a significant fraction of these schools’ professors decamped to New Hampshire, Maine, and, for the more remuneratively famous among them, Martha’s Vineyard.
Some professors I knew would fall off the radar completely, while others would shift to three day a week schedules. But come summer time, you couldn’t take it for granted that a professor would be on campus.
Interestingly, the biggest predictor of a professor leaving was status: the more important a person’s work, the more comfortable they were taking time off. Here’s my hypothesis: once they built confidence in their understanding of value — how to identify what really matters and what it really takes to produce it — they gained the confidence required to push everything else aside.
Are You Busy or Valuable?
When the weather turns nice, as it has been recently down here in DC, I remember this Cambridge ritual. It reminds me of an important point: creating value is unrelated to busyness. When you find yourself — as I sometimes do — working long hours, day after day, reacting and e-mailing and hatching schemes, it’s useful to remember that you’re working more than some of the world’s most respected and impactful thinkers.
The hard part, of course, is that it’s easier to be busy than it is to be valuable — but this shouldn’t stop us from every once and a while taking advantage of a nice day to shut things down and spend a few hours trying to figure out the difference.