Why I don't think where I work

Unlike in a normal job, the hours I sit at my desk don’t matter. All that counts is my output.

But there is an infinite number of things I could spend my time on. It’s far too easy to feel overwhelmed and procrastinate or waste time doing things that don’t move the needle.

So I need to set aside time to plan, to strategize, to operationalize and think deeply about problems. But when I’m trying to do this at my desk I get distracted by work.

Just as it’s easy to get distracted when working at home, it’s easy to get distracted by work if you try to think deeply at your work space.

There needs to be a clear line between working and deep thinking. Otherwise, it simply won’t happen as there are always more urgent tasks waiting at my desk.

The best way to establish such a boundary is by separating deep thinking and working spatially. Just as I don’t work where I relax, I don’t even attempt to think deeply where I work.

By thinking deeply I mean, for example, asking the big questions. What projects should I work on next? What exactly are my goals? What steps are necessary to reach them? And how do I make sure I actually carry them out effectively?

Once I have a plan and operationalized it, the process of me making it happen is what I call work and what I do at my work space.

There’s of course still a fair amount of thinking going on; I’m making plenty of decisions on the fly. I’m not a robot after all. But it’s all quite shallow and doesn’t require dedicated deep thinking time.

One way to think about it is that my deep thinking sessions are a success if I can do everything I call work with just, say, 6 hours of sleep.

For example, when I’ve already decided what project to work on, what feature to implement, and have a rough idea how I’ll do it, actually writing the corresponding code is easily possible for a slightly dumber version of myself (i.e. Jakob with just 6 hours of sleep.).

So how do you actually separate work and thinking spatially?

The most popular option is to go for a walk. This is what many of the deepest thinkers like Einstein did.

But I’m personally more in the Feynman camp for whom writing was not just a record of his thinking process but the thinking process itself. Only by writing I can think things through. So I need a place to sit down for my deep thinking sessions since writing and walking don’t pair well.

Luckily, just as there are dedicated work spaces, study spaces (libraries), workout spaces (gyms), relaxation spaces (home, spas), there are thinking spaces.

They’re called cafés, museums, and parks. It’s really just up to you to utilize them as such.

Written on May 30, 2021
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