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Time to Think
In an age of productivity hacks, business coaches, and social media gurus, it is now very possible to spend too much time optimizing and too little time being. Every minute of our day is accounted for, with color-coded calendar apps, countless ToDo lists, and notifications going off during the small windows of time we do have (or maybe that's just me). This lifestyle is sapping our creativity and causing us to actually get less done.
We've talked in a previous newsletter about working like a lion: sprinting in short bursts and recovering in equal measure. This style of work is ultimately more sustainable, and it allows us to focus on high-value targets that we need to accomplish. High intensity is unsustainable for long periods of time; try doing multiple sprints in the gym without any recovery and you'll see what I mean.
While working like a lion is important, this week I want to specifically focus on what happens during the downtime that so many of us ignore. When's the last time you were bored? I'm talking alone with your thoughts, staring at a wall, wishing for anything else to be happening kind of bored.
For me, I recently forgot my phone in the car during an event. It was a full, excruciating hour wondering what I could possibly be missing in the digital world. Whatever it may be, it must have been more important than the event I was attending. What I realized when I ultimately got back to my phone was two things: I had missed absolutely nothing important, and I had thought of a cool idea while not distracted by my phone that I wanted to further explore.
It's far too easy to be stimulated every waking minute of the day in the modern world. If you don't actively protect your free time, if you don't intentionally build in time to sit, and be, and think, then you will leave so much performance on the table. It may seem counterintuitive to actively not be doing something, but this time is exactly when your good ideas will come. You may solve a problem you've been stuck on, come to some revelation you hadn't realized before, or you may simply gain a greater appreciation for being fully present in that moment.
Jerry Seinfeld is famous for blocking off an hour each morning to write. He would mark a big, red 'X' on his calendar for every day he successfully completed this habit, not wanting to break the chain. The most important part of this writing time, however, was that sometimes he would just sit there in boredom for the full hour. The point wasn't to force writing to happen, it was to build in the time for ideas to flow. This habit was done, every day, without distraction. No phone buzzing, no taking a quick break to check social media, just sitting, thinking, and working.
There are solutions to problems you haven't been able to solve, some of your greatest creative ideas, new perspectives for seeing the world, and many more benefits at your fingertips. All you need to do is give yourself some empty time to think.
The most interesting things I've encountered this week
What I'm reading: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This is the quintessential book on undistracted work and the necessity of daily habits like Seinfeld's when it comes to creating great things. Pressfield professionalizes creativity and, for that reason, is approachable for people who don't consider themselves artists. This book is something I re-read often when I feel like I'm in a creative rut.
More on the daily habit of thought: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Anne takes a similar approach to Pressfield, but targeted specifically towards authors. Even if you've never aspired to write a book, the lessons here are applicable to anything in life that requires time and commitment.
More Seinfeld: “The Seinfeld Strategy” by James Clear
This article explores Seinfeld's writing strategy and references the original interview that it was revealed in. A large part of Seinfeld's massive success as a comedian is this daily ritual of undistracted writing time.
Quote of the week:
While you build in more free time to think and be creative, don't forget to appreciate the present moment. That event where I didn't have my phone in my pocket taught me how reliant I am on the notifications, dings, buzzes, and constant checking. It's freeing to not have access to it and to be forced to sit and think.
An extension of this is realizing how finite and limited time is. Learn to appreciate all of life's small moments, and don't wish to be anywhere except where you are right now.