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Paul Graham describes my brain

Post #1378 • August 6, 2009, 11:45 AM • 6 Comments

I have never been able to understand why I have trouble taking an hour to work on something in particular. Paul Graham cleared it up.

Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started. ...

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there's sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I'm slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you're a maker, think of your own case. Don't your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don't. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.




August 6, 2009, 2:33 PM

Graham is a joy to read. His writing just clips along, chop chop chop, bare logical bits falling one after the other through the clear glare of objectivity.

He is absolutely right here. A day half full of uninteresting, scheduled obligations is a full day of boredom because the other half gets wiped out. I look at the day defensively: what can I avoid, how can I make empty hours to fill with whatever I choose to do at the moment, time that does not have a scheduled end but will accomodate whatever comes up.

Read more on his site.



August 6, 2009, 2:39 PM

Graham's remarks are, in my experience, accurate. A lot of my things are done to commission, and getting a client to understand that conditions are required for making art is my biggest challenge with them. I can tell that many of them think "What a little hothouse plant." Americans, bless our hearts, assume that art is made the same way as Big Macs and Chevrolets.



August 6, 2009, 2:51 PM

In his book, "Catching the Big Fish" David Lynch wrote he wanted to be a painter in high school. He had a friend whose painter dad was fond of saying: "If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time." There's also the law of diminishing returns after about 4-6 hours.



August 6, 2009, 9:23 PM

Yeah, 3 hours is about my maximum. My eye gives out after a couple hours. The judgment gets prefunctory and goes wrong.

But I always start painting when I have at least 4 hours to burn.

I can work 6 or 8 hours steady on some things but not painting or writing. I think it is an obligation on creative workers to know when to stop and let the thinking slip back into the subconscious, where it belongs anyway.



August 6, 2009, 11:32 PM

I have to guard against undoing things by staying at it too long. To serve the work rather than control it, I have to have distance of time so that I can have it tell me what to do next to help it get where it's trying to go.


Chris Rywalt

August 7, 2009, 9:48 AM

This summer we're watching two extra kids during the day and another one is staying with us. That's a total of five kids who need lunch, occasional refereeing, and debugging ("How do you switch the TV over to play Xbox?").

I'm the main caregiver around here so I've been spending my time playing Battle Tetris. My wife wants to know why I'm not getting other projects done: Priming panels, cleaning the dining room, clipping the hedges.

I now have an explanation for at least part of the problem.



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