Monday, February 15, 2010

The Joys of Puttering

Spring sprung at least a little today in San Diego. My wife and kids were home from school for the President’s day holiday, and the warm sunny day made it a struggle to work much. My work day has been punctuated by brief but intense episodes of training my mind and hands to navigate the vagaries of the Chopin preludes that I will be performing soon. These periods are interspersed with communications to colleagues across the country about upcoming projects, reading books and articles that catch my attention and then an occasional household errand. The bass rumbles from my son’s music two rooms away provide the accompaniment for my writing tonight. He seems to think that loud music of a contemporary urban extraction helps him study more effectively. Hmm, I don’t know what life is like for other practicing musicians, I only know the oddly textured surface of my own dappled experience. Still, elements that used to seem chaotic or disparate in my life years ago now seem normal, and I now choose to laugh at the odd juxtapositions of sounds and enthusiasms that float through our house at any given moment.

Focus and concentration seem to mean something different for me than for other people. These days my life seems to be composed of dozens of little twenty-minute cells, wherein I am totally absorbed in a given task, only to have myself shift to something completely different when I shift into the next cell. So I spend my days, changing mindsets and wandering around. Experts tell me that this is due to an “associative” rather than a “linear” thinking style. For a long time, I was absolutely convinced that it was a symptom of dysfunction and I tried to learn to make myself follow more “logical” paths through projects. The effort was doomed from the outset. It felt like I was running a race in someone else’s well-worn shoes, and I had the blisters to prove it.

I laugh about this now because I once recognized this same trait in my Grandfather years ago. He was a woodworker, a gardener and he had his hands into lots of other things all at once. His habit was to spend his days puttering here and there all day long, working intently on something until he came to a pausing spot where he could safely set it down. Usually, the projects would need to sit for a while as time was required for glue to set, varnish to dry, or seeds to germinate. I like to think that my way of working has some ingrained connection to a simpler, more natural way of moving from task to task than is typically understood by productivity experts. What probably looks like an attention deficit disorder to an outside observer seems perfectly normal to me by now. Throughout the day I do lots of things and even get things accomplished—just don’t try to track my progress on a flowchart.

Does anyone else think about these things? As I continue to study my own work process and learn how to help others, I would really enjoy hearing about what your patterns look and feel like. It would be great to hear from other creative folks about your experiences in this realm. Please leave comments here or send me an e-mail.

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