Find Boredom

Iain Broom’s newsletter is a pretty good one. This tidbit from this week is something I’ve been thinking a lot about … or at least, meaning to find the time to think about: 

Writing tip: find boredom. I spend most of my life in front of a screen and I bet many of you reading this do too. It can be stifling. It can make us feel like we are doing something useful when we are not. It fills our time. We don’t get bored.

Give yourself time to think about your work away from a screen. Mow your lawn. Wash the pots. Build a bookcase. Drift away. Find boredom. Think your thoughts. Write them down. Do your work.

I spend a lot of time shoving content into my head. In between meetings and running around taking care of kids and family business and work, social media has oozed into the cracks like some awful time-mildew. I feel bad about the amount of time that I spend with it. But I don’t stop.  

Then there’s the digital media that I feel bad for not immersing myself in enough like RSS feeds and my ever-increasing backlog of articles in Instapaper.  

Then on top of all of that, if I’m doing any sort of work that doesn’t take much thinking, like emptying the dishwasher or commuting to work, I’ll usually have a podcast streaming through earbuds. 

What I’ve realized is that I’m shoving other people’s ideas into my head like commuters on a Japanese subway.  

The long and short of it is that I’m hardly ever bored anymore. And when you’re not bored, you’re not processing life. And when you’re not processing life and drawing connections and achieving that state where you’ve suddenly taken a step back and can see the matrix, as it were, then you’re not going to be as good as you want to be at your job or whatever other creative pursuits you’re involved in. 

And when I’m referring to “you” in the above paragraph, really, I’m referring to myself. I’m now publicly lecturing myself in the form of blogging. I’m pretty sure this is what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind for this whole Web thing.  

In a post he called On Creation Without Consumption, Brett Terpstra wrote about his struggles coming from the other side of things, about actually being bad at consuming content because his mind is constantly trying to interject his own ideas. 

I’d like to actually try and find the happy medium between where I’ve driven myself and where he’s trying to push away from. Meet in the middle, drive a golden spike into the ground, and never look back. 

Though I don’t think it’s ever going to be that easy. The reality of having all of this media in our pockets means being ever vigilant to behavior. Catching yourself in the act when you’re reaching for Facebook at a stoplight or checking Twitter while your kid is in the bath. 

In fact, delete Facebook from your phone for a day, just to get an understanding of the hold that thing has on you. I didn’t quite understand until I caught myself constantly reaching for one more effing hit.  

Choose life, as the drug addled Scots used to say.

Weekending for the Work

Josh Ginter writes one of my favorite sites right now: The Newsprint. The presentation is always beautiful, and his writing is always thoughtful. What a jerk.

He wrote a post a while back reflecting on his recent graduation from his masters program and and entry into the working world. This bit about time off and enjoying what you do is spot on:

So many people talk about work as the bane of life. We trudge through our 8 to 5 job so we can head home to our families. We value our weekends as though each week is a race to the finish line. And we better take our vacation because we deserve it.

Maybe we do deserve vacation time. Batteries need to be recharged to do our best work and vacation time is necessary from time to time.

But viewing time off as some sort of reward is a flawed paradigm. It certainly won’t make that 8 to 5 job any easier. If anything, it pushes us away from the moment and the job at hand. The allure of leisure time puts us in auto-pilot — unable to focus and find meaning in our work.

I’m very lucky to do what I do for a living. It’s something that is always interesting, always challenging, and despite the frequent nonsense and over-importance placed on the least important bits of the job, I really enjoy it.

In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve learned to enjoy having time off from work. It was a hard earned lesson, involving the somewhat violent shift in work life balance that happens when you have small children at home.

It also reminds me of something that we all know yet mostly ignore: creativity requires a mind that is able to rest, process what’s already in it, and refuel with new input.

Grinding all of the time is only going to burn people out.