by James M. Jackson
Star Trek fans may think of Space as the final frontier; but for me, one key to success is to manage space—the distance between two objects. Mismanagement always gets me into trouble.
My office offers an example of what I mean. I am a stacker by nature. During my consulting days, parts of my office looked like a file cabinet without the cabinet. I always knew what was in each stack and how far down I needed to go to find a particular document. Those days are long gone; now I have trouble remembering for sure whether something is in my summer or winter home. As a result, my desk provides a quick visual of how productive I will be.
When my desk looks as clean as a freshly tilled field ready for planting—the working area clear, a few piles pushed to the edges out of the way—it’s evidence that at my next work session I will sit down, concentrate on my work, and make satisfactory progress.
However, if the detritus of incomplete work covers my desk, then instead of focusing on the work I want to do, I flit from distraction to distraction, picking up and putting down projects, housekeeping tasks, bill-paying, whatever, and frittering away my energy from the real work I want to accomplish.
I know the solution is to take the time to clear my desk of all the crud that has accumulated. Spending “unproductive” time dealing with all those minor distractions pays large dividends in increased productivity. It’s the same reason a farmer weeds his field, or a lumberman sharpens his axe before felling a tree. With a dull axe, you can eventually beaver a tree down, but not only does it take longer, there is a larger risk of injury from a dull axe because it doesn’t bite as well and can bounce off and rebound into the axe man.
So why isn’t my desk always clean? When I don’t do what I know I should do, it’s a sign depression wants to get its claws into me—or has succeeded in doing so. No need for a shrink to make a diagnosis.
I am most creative when I create open space for thinking. Solutions arrive from the ether if I give my mind a problem to solve and clear out distracting thoughts. Giving my mind the problem is equivalent to a farmer sowing seeds. To expect a harvest without planting is wishful thinking. And like the farmer weeding, or me clearing my desk of distractions, to encourage creative thinking, I must clear my mind.
At my home up north, it’s easy to let go of distracting thoughts: I take long runs in the woods with birds and critters as my only companions, or canoe or kayak, or take an ATV ride to explore a favorite haunt or new area, or sit on the dock and enjoy the lapping of the waves on the rocks. It’s more difficult for me when I return to “civilization” to create equivalent open spaces in which to grow ideas.
I’m writing this piece on my screened porch. Listening to the birds as they go about their morning feeding is reason enough to love it out here, but truth be told, I’m also avoiding my desk. It’s covered with this’s and that’s that would distract me from completing this post.
I know people who do their best work surrounded by noise and people and excitement (like authors who write in coffee shops). That’s a disaster for me, but I’m curious: what works for you?
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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.