A random comment during a fantastic panel at SXSW called Agile Self Development has stuck with me this last week or so (I need to do a more comprehensive follow-up on SXSW… wonder if I’ll ever actually get to it though).
The comment was about something regarding whether or not you’re a “sponge, faucet, or caked on pan that can’t absorb anything”. It resonated with me especially in regards to how we think about work.
Then, the last two days (my Niko-sitting days) I’ve been going through and watching a ton of TED talks, more comprehensibly organized here by Postrank than by the TED site itself. Two of them in particular sort of resonated with me and yet contradicted each other at the same time.
Jason Fried in “Why work doesn’t happen at work“:
And Steven Berlin Johnson in “Where good ideas come from“:
Jason Fried says, and I agree, that 4 hours of uninterrupted solitude is the best gift you can give to a developer.
Steven Berlin Johnson says, and I agree, that offices should look more like coffee houses than how they currently look.
You can’t have solitude and the wisdom of the crowds at the same time, though.
The truth is, that depending on whether or not I’m in a SPONGE or SPRING state, I need a different environment to work.
How I work
I take care of my 10-month old son, Niko, 3 days a week (Fri, Sun, Mon), and work the other 4 days. 3 out of 4 of those days, if I’m in Seattle, I work from the fantastic Office Nomads office in Capitol Hill. Their motto is “individuality without isolation”. Before recently moving, I worked from the equally fantastic (and terribly missed) Bedlam Coffee in Belltown. The interesting thing about both locations as work environment is that they allow me to work amongst people without having to be distracted by them. I require an almost religiously mandated solid 4-6 hours of work (without interruption) on the days I’m working. A day where I get less than that (especially since I’m only working 4 days a week) is rather terribly received. And as a consequence, I get a lot done on most of those days relative to the average amount that 4 hours 4 days a week would produce. These are the days are all about creating something from the mishmash of ideas and inspirations from the other days of the week. These are the days when I am a SPRING (aka producing water, content, and ideas).
The other 3 days a week are what I call my “offline” days. Days with Niko: feeding him, changing his diapers, entertaining him, napping with him, playing with toys, taking him on walks, repeat, repeat, repeat. Strictly speaking, I’m not “on the clock” those days, and yet, I think they are absolutely essential to the work schedule I’ve set up for myself. They are the days when I make sure that the top work or creative problem of the week is simmering on my back burner subconsciously. They are the days when I am a SPONGE. I listen to TED talks, I read, I go on walks, I mull, and most importantly I just focus on one particular area of work that sits at the bottom of my mind as I wait for it to finish baking. Frustratingly, sometimes, this has nothing to do with my conscious mind, and is not on a schedule. Patience is required.
And, ideally, I would never be a STONE. The stone state is where you can’t absorb any new information, and you don’t have any energy to create. They are days when it’s best to simply turn the mind off. Stop thinking about your problems, stop trying to work, stop trying to be creative. Do errands. Do mindless tasks. Have an extra drink. Let my subconscious and creative minds restore a bit of energy. These days suck. They are wastes of days, but they would be made worse by trying to get any creative productivity or mulling out of them.
So, I think Jason Fried was right about how to handle SPRING days.
And I think Steven Berlin Johnson was right about how to handle SPONGE days.
And I think that the unsexy, unmarketable nature of STONE days is just something that we need to come to terms with. They are our lost weekends. Days off. Every other day is a work day, indirectly. Even if I’m just making funny sounds at Niko or walking around aimlessly.
Every day, when you wake up, ask yourself: am I a SPRING, a SPONGE, or a STONE? And accordingly, determine whether or not you are going to give yourself of solitude to work (spring), a social and media-heavy environment (sponge), or clear your plate and let your subconscious recover (stone).