I Love Cal Newport but My Brain Has No Chill

in productivity •  last year

The Problem with My Brain

"At a seminar in the Bell Communications Research Colloquia Series, Dr. Richard W. Hamming, a Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and a retired Bell Labs scientist, gave a very interesting and stimulating talk, 'You and Your Research' to an overflow audience of some 200 Bellcore staff members and visitors at the Morris Research and Engineering Center on March 7, 1986."

I'm reading the transcript of Hamming's '86 talk and I do find it interesting and stimulating. But the problem with me is, I find many things interesting and stimulating. Perhaps, too many. Ultimately this problem spawns off little baby subproblems, none of which have solutions, so I turn to Steemit, because I need to explore this problem and its babies a little further.

What makes someone extremely successful in their field?

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That's the question Hamming answers in his speech. Among a myriad of quotable quips and plenty of great advice, I particularly like, "The prepared mind sooner or later finds something important and does it." In other words, success is not based on random eureka moments. Success is due to a series of fortunate and reified events that build upon each other. Malcolm Gladwell describes some of the same phenomena in his best-selling book Outliers. (I don't mind promoting him. He's great :)

I, like most of us, aim to be a success.

As a result, the question above is something that I am becoming obsessed with. I've been listening to podcasts, reading articles, attending talks, etc. However, I feel as if I'm wasting time trying to learn how to become successful instead of actually working on becoming successful. I often turn to Cal Newport, the productivity god (prod god?) for answers. He would respond to the question Hamming addresses with the term "deep work". Deep work is deliberate, intense focus on completing whatever it is you aim to achieve. You can think of it as a meditative or flow state.

Chill, brain!

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As I aim to achieve success and tap into my inner productivity zen, if you will, I keep running into the same problems:

  • I find something interesting to me. I look up how I can be involved. I get started.
  • I find something else interesting to me. I look up how I can be involved. I get started.
  • I find something else interesting to me...

This loop keeps going and the result is I never get anything done. An illustrative real-world example is how I came to be writing this article right now:

  • I found a link to a dataset that I wanted to save to revisit at a later time, but I realized there was no quick and easy way to do this--bookmarks are clunky, and I am already drowning in email. I wanted something simple and minimalist. Telegra.ph meets Slack. I Googled. No luck.

  • I thought, why not make it as an app on the #Ethereum blockchain since I have never done that before? I look up how to make a blockchain app. Installing dependencies... bugs... I'm like what do I name the directory? I go to Cal Newport's blog for inspiration, because his deep work methods seem relevant to the app's concept. I find an article on Claude Shannon. Someone dropped the link to Hamming's article in a comment.

From negative to positive and it's all good

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On the topic of working conditions, Hamming said, "I think that if you look carefully you will see that often the great scientists, by turning the problem around a bit, changed a defect to an asset. For example, many scientists when they found they couldn't do a problem finally began to study why not." So here I am, trying to figure out why not. Why can't I complete tasks? Why does my brain hop from idea to idea without fleshing one out? Why do I get so inspired by the first third of a speech that I open a new tab to do something else?

Well, I'm not sure. But I feel like I've gotten to the end of this blog post. So that's something, right?

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