I think I’ve been given a great lesson in patience by having a job that involves a lot of repetition. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of opportunities for creative thinking, design, and analysis of tough problems. But there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done over and over. This patience has helped me in building databases of information for upcoming projects, keeping track of a growing library of books and music, and even drawing patterns by hand.
I have a weird ritual when I start working, whether it’s writing or my professional job. I take my “go bag” (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) and completely unpack its contents onto my desk. I then put things away that I won’t need, or things I’m finished with as I’m working. If I’m at home, I may analyze if this particular object needs to go back in the bag, or whether it’s just taking up space. I’m always fighting the twin impulses to take everything with me, and to only carry the things I actually need and will use.
The ritual provides focus. Every day I’m making a quick analysis of what needs to be done on the day’s projects, and I’m even making some long term decisions about how I’m spending my time. I don’t tend to plan out projects too specifically in the long term. Sometimes all I’m doing is shooting for a particular date, and making decisions along the way to make sure I hit that date.
One of the recurring themes in my life is the desire to do a number of projects, but the time to only do one or two at a time. Sometimes I’ve tried to whittle myself down to a single focus, whereas others I’m exploring half a dozen different avenues of creative expression. Both can be valuable. Exploring a bunch of different ideas can help you determine what’s the best path forward. And focusing on a single project can bring a clarity and a lack of distraction.
My hunch, though, is that two projects is the optimal number, at least for me right now. I tend to be really focused and excited about something for short bursts, sometimes a few days, sometimes a few weeks, and then I need a mental break. I’m a disciplined writer, so often I just push through these fallow periods, but the times when I have felt most productive and engaged are those when I’ve had something else to fall back on. Having another project can get your brain thinking in a different way, which can in turn bring new insights back to your original goal.
I think it’s important and valuable to make quick and routine assessments of how things are going, and to make changes as necessary, Don’t spend forever deciding if a particular notebook should go back in the “go bag”, but maybe try to think about the last time you used it. Recognize that time, like the space in a carry bag, can be limited and is best spent focused on a few things. But take advantage of the space you have, and the place you’re in at that moment.