During college I played music professionally. It was a wonderful experience and I loved getting to know and work with some pretty crazy people. Jazz musicians in particular can be neurotic at times. (That’s why I fit in so well, haha!) Take sax players. Some sax players never take their horn off. Wherever they go they have their horn in their hand and they are always noodling on a riff or a solo idea.
The more we focus on the less we accomplish. At least that’s my experience. This doesn’t preclude getting many different things done, but it does mean that you need to protect your focus at any given moment in order to do good work. Recently I’ve been playing Suduko. I love the way that it rewards concentration with a cascade of success. Focus on completing a house, a row, or a column, and you’ll be met with a series of other open moves across the board.
On my computer I love the option to have a window take up the entire screen. Not just to maximize it to cover the desktop, but filling the entire screen. As I write this I have only one window visible, no menu bar or icons in the dock. Do Not Disturb mode is enabled. Right now this computer is only capable of doing one thing. Knowledge work, the kind of work many of us do all day, revolves around writing.
Worthwhile pursuits are hard. Work worth doing involves struggle. This is one of the lessons I wish I had learned earlier in life. This afternoon I saw a perfect example of this. We had a small, Friday afternoon emergency at work. A customer needed a very specific data set that I knew was in our database but that I didn’t know how to retrieve. A coworker stepped up and saved the day.
Listening to music with musicians is interesting. Most musicians I know think of listening to music as an activity you do exclusively; not while reading a book, not while looking at your phone, or while working on email. The music deserves full attention while it’s playing. You learn and gain from the music by listening attentively and deeply. This isn’t to say that musicians don’t like background music. They do, but they also have the annoying habit of actually listening to the background music much more than normal people do.
It’s the time of year when we think about where we are, where we want to be, and what we should do to get there. I love the new year. Setting goals can be great and keeping new years resolutions, even for a few days or weeks, is a good thing. As you take time to set goals, consider adding some “Do Not” goals to your list. Instead of adding more and more things to your already busy life, decide what things you want to subtract or stop doing.
One of my favorite writers, Austin Kleon, wrote in his book Steal Like an Artist of how we are all mashups. From our genetics to our creative influences, we are the sum of many parts. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’ We are also shaped by our habits.