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Spring, sponge, or stone?

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).

7 Responses to “Spring, sponge, or stone?”

  1. I find this Stone/Spring/Sponge idea, and the two TED talks you posted, extremely helpful and inspiring to think about (in particular today, as I have been in Stone mode lately and frustrated). This is encouraging me to explore the possibility of actively shifting into a Sponge state by changing environment and inputs. Sometimes all one really needs is an interesting new framing — e.g., I am a having a “stone” day, rather than, say, I am a giant, hopeless failure — to shift gears. Thanks for the great post.

  2. [...] what I mean by processing is similar to the idea of being a “sponge”, able to observe and absorb but still not able to create, or to even articulate in any kind of [...]

  3. I am a having a “stone” day, rather than, say, I am a giant, hopeless failure — to shift gears. Thanks for the great post.

  4. Very interesting thoughts!

    I am a student who’s about to start an entrepreneurship journey, and this post particularly resonate for me as I question myself about what kind of lifestyle I want to design for myself. Thanks for sharing the details of yours!

    Good luck with your projects!

  5. Good post. Stone days can be really damaging if not recognised early. I have had days where I push and push to get my brain moving, and annoy close others and depress myself.

    Although I find sometimes the first sip of wine in the evening will draw a little blood.

  6. “If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.” – Dean Smith

  7. [...] Day to day, are you a spring, a sponge or a stone [...]

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