I'm the first one to admit that I love gadgets. I've got a lightweight laptop with WiFi. I just bought a new cell phone with Bluetooth, speaker, and digital camera capabilities. I don't yet have a Blackberry, but I'm sure if I did I'd become another Crackberry statistic in no time. As a deadline-driven journalist, I am addicted to the buzz of information, the adrenaline rush of last-minute multitasking. I will check and reply to work e-mail at midnight or sunrise. I'll finish up my editor's column with breakfast and tweak a freelance writer's story with dinner. I'll polish a Power-Point presentation on the plane to a conference. Like many busy professionals, I have succumbed to the siren call of productivity.
But am I really more productive? Possibly so, but at what cost? I know I'm losing time I once cherished. I used to start every morning with a strong cup of coffee, peaceful music, and a leisurely read of the newspaper. On plane rides, I used to delve into a novel or a literary magazine. I once spent hours sketching, a wonderful reprieve from the endless flow of words my work entails. And when I traveled on business, I would drop my bags at the hotel and go wander in my new surroundings. Now I spend most downtime stuck in my room, catching up on looming deadlines, triaging frantic messages from equally pressured colleagues. I'm losing those interludes of expansive thinking that feed the creative mind. I suppose these are the necessary sacrifices of a maturing career, the seismic shift from implementer to decision-maker. But it does feel like one of nature's cruel jokes that in achieving so much creative control over my professional life, I'm left with so little time to be creative.
This is a familiar trajectory for professionals, especially those in artistic careers. Your strength in one area causes your life to clutter up in so many others. You're a talented designer, so your client roster grows, your staff blossoms, and suddenly you're a full-time manager, too. Whether you're good at it or not; whether you enjoy it or not. One day you find you have no time to design at the office anymore. But that's the part you really love—it's why you entered the profession in the first place—so you take your project home to design after hours. The problem is, as we've become so accessible with our gadgetry, the busywork has spilled into every waking moment. There really isn't such a thing as after hours anymore. Those stretches of quiet contemplation are harder and harder to claim in our hectic lives.
And yet claim them we must. The best work still requires complete immersion for a time. It demands a selfish solipsism that holds the needs of colleagues, friends, and even family temporarily at bay. It means something else does not get done when and as well as it should be done. For those of us accustomed to doing most tasks pretty well when our lives were smaller, letting go of this universal standard rankles. But if the alternative is simply spreading thin and nowhere going deep, it's a compromise we must bear. You have to quiet the noise outside to hear the music within.
Credit: Mark Robert Halper
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