How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule
The article below is fantastic, and is the exact tension in my life.
I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want to only do hard thinking and writing, but neither would I only want to execute and make things happen. The problem is that seeking to do both creates a tension. These things can fight against one another when it comes to making time for both.
That’s why Cal Newport’s article, How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule, is so helpful. It addresses how to resolve this tension for those of us who are not called to go exclusively in one direction or the other.
Here’s the first part:
It started a few weeks ago. I had to write an academic research statement: a high stakes, ambiguous, beast of a creative project. For the first week, I kept telling myself, “this is my most important priority,” and hacked away at the project whenever I got a chance. I continuously felt guilty about not spending enough time writing. One night, toward the end of the week, I holed up in my office until 9 pm, desperate to get things done.The result was near useless. I had 15 pages of rambling text (a research statement should be 3-5 pages, at most), and still had more to cover. The message was confused and drowning in adjectives.
This situation is common for to-do list creatives – workers who have the juggle creative work – like writing or devising strategy – with logistical work – like prompt email replies and meetings. I’m a to-do list creative: as a theoretical computer scientist, I must switch between solving mathematical proofs – one of the most purely creative endeavors – and the logistics of reviewing papers and meeting with grant managers. To keep things interesting, I also sometimes write.
Here’s our quandary: To-do list creatives advance in their careers based on the quality of their creative output. Our logistical responsibilities, however, fight against this goal. Most to-do list creatives cannot drop everything to spend days lost in monk-like focus. But the result of instead squeezing creative work into distracted bursts, driven by deadline pressure, is mediocrity. (Exhibit A: the first draft of my research statement).
That distinction between “creative work” and “logistical work” is incredibly enlightening. And so is his point (later in the article) that creative work simply does not work well on a to-do list. He presents, in my opinion, a much better solution which helps keep logistical responsibilities from fighting against creative work.