July 29, 2009

Bulk view

Laptop hard disk still dead

My laptop hard disk is still dead, but I’m surviving.

Unstructured time

The first thread: Paul Graham described the difference between makers’ schedules and managers’ schedules as the difference between needing long chunks of time to focus versus switching tasks frequently, such as every hour. Makers such as programmers and writers do their best when “in the zone”, when they reach the flow state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Interruptions break concentration.

The second thread: W- and I were talking about plans for our upcoming vacation. He’s planning to take two weeks off so that he can spend them with J-, who’ll be with us for two weeks and who had decided that she would rather not attend any summer camps this year. As he’s taking his vacation during the week of my birthday and the week after that, I thought I’d take part of my saved overtime as well so that I can share more memories. Due to my paperwork situation (I can’t leave Canada at the moment), they ruled out a trip to New York even though I urged them to take the first circus. Because of our cats, we probaby won’t wander far from Toronto. So a staycation it is.

Tying the threads together: For us, staycations aren’t about sleeping in. They’re unstructured time, maker time, when we can use large chunks of focus to develop skills that are difficult to work on during evenings or weekends. W- and J- are particularly looking forward to developing their photography skills through deliberate practice.

I could work from home and just join W- and J- in the evenings (or work in the evenings and take some breaks during the day). Taking the time as a proper vacation, though, means that I can use that maker time to improve my skills to the point where I can make even better use of evenings and weekends in the future. For example, if I can get much better at photography, then our casual photography trips will be more rewarding. If I can get much better at sewing, then my occasional sewing weekend will be more fruitful. If I can get much better at presentations and storytelling, then my occasional talk will be even more effective. Up-front investment yields continuing returns. Yes, my billable utilization is lower, but the concentrated skill development will make me a better person and a better employee.

I spent some time reflecting on what I would do with unstructured time. I started by thinking about what I would do with a life of unstructured time–if I achieve financial independence. Then I thought about what I’d do with a year, as I might have if I take a sabbatical (which is a very good practice, I’ve heard). Then I reflected on progressively smaller increments: a month, two weeks, a week, an evening, an hour, five minutes. Starting with a wide-open field and narrowing it down made it easier to see how I felt about different activities.

What would I do with a life of unstructured time?
Start businesses
Make and deliver presentations for fun
Write blog posts and e-books
Visit friends and family
Get really good at delegating and working with a network
Get really good at drawing and photography
Replace my entire wardrobe with things I’ve sewn myself
Take lessons on how to play the piano, and get to the point where I can easily read and play music
Host lots of get-togethers
Build systems to make my life and other people’s lives better
Pick up lots of skills and interests

What would I do with a year or two of unstructured time?
Start a business
Take courses or make up my own
Cook lots of recipes
Host a number of get-togethers
Make and deliver presentations for fun
Learn how to play a few piano pieces well
Build a system to make my life and other people’s lives better
Replace most of my wardrobe with things I’ve sewn myself
Make a couple of photo collections
Write a couple of short e-books

What would I do with a month of unstructured time?
Get started on a new skill
Make an e-book
Learn a piano piece
Sew a few outfits
Make a photo collection
Polish my presentations and draft new ones
Bike every day
Revamp my site
Cook a number of new recipes

What would I do with two weeks of unstructured time?
Polish my existing presentations
Gather and organize material for new presentations
Organize the house
Bike every day
Learn a new sewing skill (maybe making tops)
Get started on a new piano piece
Try a new recipe or two
Host a get-together

What would I do with one week of unstructured time?
Gather and organize material for new presentations
Organize the house
Braindump, read, and explore
Cook a new recipe
Sew an item
Explore one kind of photography

What would I do with a weekend of unstructured time?
Go for a bike ride
Tidy up the house
Organize a room
Work on an outfit
Practice a piano piece
Cook something new
Organize a get-together
Explore one kind of photography
Process my photos
Do some long-term brainstorming
Draw

What would I do with a day of unstructured time?
Write a few blog posts
Brainstorm and reflect
Mindmap/draw a presentation
Tidy up the house
Sew
Play a bit of piano
Take a few pictures
Garden

What would I do with an evening of unstructured time?
Brainstorm, reflect, and blog
Read
Tidy up
Practice a piano segment
Prepare a presentation
Process photos
Bike
Sew a little bit

What would I do with an hour of unstructured time?
Blog
Sketch
Read
Practice a piano segment
Mindmap a presentation

What would I do with five minutes of unstructured time?
Brainstorm and reflect
Read
Share a laugh

This list is sure to change, but it’s a useful start. =)

Creative work can be squeezed into five minutes here and there. It’s nice having a block of time where you can focus, though, and I think it’ll definitely be worth taking a vacation. Not only will I develop skills, but I’ll also get better at making the most of unstructured time.

What would you do with unstructured time?