Some of you may recall that I have teeny-tiny crush on Tim Ferriss. (Well, okay, perhaps just comfortably short of being worthy of a restraining order. But who am I to get hung up on details?)
Anyway, as part of the promotion campaign for Leo Babauta’s book, The Power of Less, he just posted an interview with Ferriss that is well worth a listen.
What I found the most interesting about the interview is how Ferriss has consciously chosen to architect his environment in such a way as to make it almost impossible to focus on anything other than what he’s decided is his top-priority at that given time. I’m talking monastic-level severity.
I’ve spent several hours today mentally kicking around his approach to work and I still can’t decide if I’m intrigued by his methods or terrified by them on a deeply visceral level. What’s punching my buttons is the realization that the place in which I’ve traditionally been able to achieve a flow state and be my most productive is 180-degrees diametrically-opposed to Ferriss’. (About the only thing that makes this a little less true is he apparently likes to have a movie running silently in the background.)
I am an information addict and I tend to want to be connected to what I deem my important sources of information at all times while I’m working. I want to be able to flip to my news feeds, email, or the phone number of my cat’s astrologist with a single keystroke.
I normally am reading somewhere between 5 and 10 books simultaneously. Bookstores actually send me thank-you cards around the holidays. (Although their ardor has begun to cool somewhat since I started getting roughly 95% of my books from the library.)
It’s a necessary survival-skill for anyone I date to learn how to safely navigate around the circumference of books, notepads, and laptops (generally there’s three running simultaneously) surrounding my usual roosting spot without either killing themselves or unplugging anything critical that will result in me killing them. (Yes, the three laptops are after I downsized my belongings. There used to be four.)
After reading The Four Hour Work Week, I tried scaling down the times I checked email. I decided to start small and simply have my machines only check every half-hour rather than every minute. I think I made it a day and half before I started experiencing Delirium tremens. People I’m close to generally know they can fire off an email at any time of day or night and stand at least even odds of getting a response from me in under a minute.
At this point, I’m not sure I could write a grammatically-correct sentence without simultaneously having to keep a yowling Balinese cat from stepping on anything critical on the keyboard.
I could go on, but my main point is that I have made the conscious choice to work in an environment where there are almost always multiple demands on my attention at any given time. Of course, it is also highly possible that my chaotic working style may be one of the contributing factors to why I felt the need to seriously simplify my life in the last year.
I can follow the argument in Babauta’s The Power of Less that you’re likely to have more energy to direct at a particular goal if you tackle only one goal at a time. Certainly a finite amount of energy directed at a single target is more effective, right? And no one is given more than 24 hours in a day.
I guess I just don’t buy the assumption that the amount of energy we have is a constant whether we’re working on one goal or multiple ones. In terms of my personal proclivities, I’m not certain how much enthusiasm I’d have for any one project without others hovering interestingly in the wings.
Bright, shiny distractions are an energetic shot-in-the-arm to me. They give me enough juice to keep plugging away at whatever I currently need to get done. If I shackled myself away in a room somewhere safe from all distractions, I think I’d feel compelled to chew off my own leg in under five minutes. Then I would hobble away and refuse to think again upon whatever it was that led me to that situation in the first place. (Thank god ADD was just becoming a popular concept when I was a kid or they would have drugged me to the gills with Ritalin. As it was, I spent most of my public school education banished to the school library.)
Of course, I also think I’ve chosen to engineer my life in ways to weed out what I perceive to be meaningless distractions. I don’t own a T.V. I refuse to track or even understand anything related to American sports teams. I couldn’t tell you if the Dallas Cowboys are a baseball or rugby team. (Actually, I know the answer to that one. I’m just trying to make a couple of male friends howl in protest.) If you force me into a mall, I shop like a man with fifteen minutes left to live, and I’ll never give a damn about anything involving a shoe with heels. I couldn’t bowl a strike or make Baked Alaska if my life depended on it. I am capable of sitting with a friend or loved one in an hour or more of companionable silence without feeling the need to fidget. And I absolutely refuse to give even another minute of my life to trying to understand differential equations.
So I guess I’m capable of being zen-like in particular areas. But abandon my books, email, and newsfeeds?? Inconceivable. (To borrow a quote from The Princess Bride.)
Still, I catch myself spending quite a bit of time and energy considering things like Babauta’s book and Ferriss’ interview wondering if there is, in fact, a better way I could be choosing to manage and use my limited time on the planet… I’ve got a feeling that this may be an area where I continue to evolve my thinking over the next couple of years.
And, before my extended navel-gazing on a Friday night gets totally insufferable–yes, I still think Ferriss is munchable.
(Image from tinksworld.org)