Sunday, April 16, 2006

Out of the mouths....

Mom, why don't you just work at work? Isn't home for home stuff? I got that from my son this afternoon.

I remember asking Dr. Stanton - my p-chem (physical chemistry) professor - how I would know when I was working hard enough in a conversation where he was lamenting my tendency to do just enough work to get an A in the course, but no more. He said you were working hard enough if you found yourself thinking about work when you were doing other things. He didn't explain it any more thoroughly than that, but over time I learned he was right, and realized that was a reasonably elegant and perceptive answer. And over time, I also realized that he probably realized before I did that I was not meant to go on in Chemistry, regardless of being able to do well at it.

But when I'm deep into code, there's a background process in my brain working regardless of where I am and what I am (ostensibly) doing. Having found a subject I care deeply about, I can now understand what he was trying to say. And maybe tincture of time has brought me a limited amount of wisdom, too.

So now I need to ask him the next question - how do you stop your brain from working when it is already working hard enough?

Laptops. Chains or wings? Or as Dr. Dolan in one of my favorite courses in college (History and Structure of the English Language) would say - not either/or, but both/and.


Ned Batchelder said...

I like the rule of thumb. It's very comforting to have something that simple.

Glyph Lefkowitz said...

Although dividing "work" from "home" is a constant battle for me (currently I share a 700 square foot apartment with my girlfriend, which doubles as an office) I've found that a personal symbolic language is a powerful tool in creating these divisons. Create a ritual at the beginning of the day that says, "I am beginning work." If you commute, that can be enough, as long as you consciously decide on the commute as the bookends of your work-day. If you really do like doing some work at home, do something to visibly create an "I'm working" zone around your work area, which you can turn off when you're done.

A good source of ideas for these kinds of miniature rituals is japanese culture. For example, watch what a sushi chef does at the beginning and end of preparing a meal.

Damien said...

I agree, that obsessive focus that makes one successful isn't something you can force to happen. And its not something you can shut off at will either.

There are many such behaviours I have, where it's generally a positive trait, but for my lack of abilty to turn it off it can become a problem. I just try to get a little better every year. "Try" being the operative word ;)