Thursday, November 05, 2009

Where your thinking happens 

Ben Casnocha gets this exactly right:
Even if you had "thinking time" on your calendar, what would you do during that time? Sit in a chair, stare straight ahead, and ponder the world?

...Driving is the most popular activity of this sort. Driving requires some level of attention, but you have plenty of cycles to think about other stuff, especially if you're driving a familiar route. "When Joan Didion moved from California to New York, Didion realized that she had done much of her thinking and mental writing during the long drives endogenous to the Californian lifestyle," Steve Dodson notes. I'm the same. I can't tell you how many emails and plans and conclusions I've come to while driving on the 101 or 280 freeways.

Reading is another activity that can be specifically scheduled and invites the kind of reflection and catch-up thinking that we need.
My calendar each morning -- never carried one before I was chair, now can't imagine how I lived without it -- begins with a coffee period, in which I talk to friends and colleagues here on campus or off, and a "correspondence" half-hour in which mostly I read. Somewhere in there I drive to campus. That period often finds me with headphones listening to Hewitt, Miller, Prager, or some Bloomberg. (That's pretty much all that's on my iPod Touch; EconTalk is an appointment I have to do sitting still.) And I do find that period some of my most productive of the day. I COULD teach early morning classes, but then I'd have to find some other way to schedule things that are conducive to thinking.

And that's the point -- thinking happens between the words of a book or paper you read, or while you sit in traffic, or ... ? Just as a good strategy in games or sports is to put yourself in a place where luck really helps you, a good strategy in business or academia is to put yourself in a place where the thought that pops in your head can be mulled over, chewed and digested. It's probably why a stick of dynamite (or an infestation of bad administrators) wouldn't get me out of academics.

Where does your thinking happen? What times of day? I'd love to hear this in comments.

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