As I’ve written about before, Saturday morning is sacred. In weeks full of meetings, travel, people, and other productive distractions, having four consecutive hours to actually think is precious time – it’s time for writing.
As a nerd afflicted with a decent case of NADD, this time can be problematic. It’s hard for me to focus because there is much interesting in the world to discover. Over the years, I’ve developed a process by which I channel my focus, build mental velocity and find my creativity. This process leads to a state I call Drift.
The Data Shovel
A quick reminder about the nerd mindset. We are naturally interested in everything because the acquisition of new data allows us to better understand the world. See, as system thinkers, we’re trying to build a model that, well, explains everything. To assist in our discovery of everything, we’ve built ingenious ways of gathering data. Whether it’s a feed reader, a set of bookmark tab groups, Facebook, Twitter, or a news aggregator, we’ve constructed a personal machine that allows us to rapidly consume information. I call mine a data shovel and the shovel is how I start Drifting.
When I sit down on Saturday morning and start digging, I’ve begun a significant mental exercise that looks like this:
- Do I care about this item? No? Skip. Yes? Keeping reading.
- Do I care about this more than the headline? No? Skip. Yes? Keep reading.
- Do I care more than the first paragraph? No? Skip. Yes? Keep reading.
If an item makes it through the checklist, I’ll either read the entire piece or watch the short video or bookmark for consumption at the end of my shoveling.
The process of consuming all this data gives my mind mental velocity, but it’s not just the rate of consumption that gets me mentally limber, it’s the map I’m constantly building and refining. I’m exercising and developing my Relevancy Engine. I’m instantly evaluating everything I know and comparing this item to that impression. This tells me – quickly – how much I might care about this item.
I’m also adding this new data to my model of everything. Twitter blocked in Turkey? Why? How? Isn’t that hard to do? Crimea annexed? I know nothing about Crimea, but it feels like I should. Also, isn’t this how World Wars start? Note to self: go read about how World Wars start. Might be relevant.
It reads exhausting, but I do these relevancy checks and model updates in an instant. Over and over again. The process leaves me in an ideal state of Drift.
Connection and Insight
Drift is both a state and a time. The high volume of information consumption has forced my brain into high gear to process and analyze it. Analysis is the catalyst that opens the door to creativity. Drift is the time that I’m moving from consumption into creation, and writing.
When Drifting from intense data shoveling, I’m in a unique state to write. I’m in a heightened state of questioning, I’m able to make bizarrely useful connections between unrelated topics, and I’m finding insight at an impressive rate. Yes, I am talking about the Zone, but the Zone is a place where you arrive and Drift is how you get there.
I usually have a single article that I’m working on, but come Saturday morning with good solid Drift, I’ll often look at several drafts of other articles and see what the Relevancy Engine thinks. How does it decide? The answer is a confusing:
I have no fucking clue.
Intuition is compiled experience and Drift is intuition on steroids. Writing involves long periods of discipline with infrequent, brilliant flashes of inspiration. Mapping one distant idea to another. Finding the perfect metaphor. Discovering the perfect word that strangely just fits. These magical, slippery mental events are as precious as they are unpredictable.
Drifting into writing won’t help with your discipline, but I believe it will nurture connection and insight because after years of Saturday mornings staring at my mental discoveries on the page, I believe that Drift catalyzes creativity.
Drift is full of risk. There’s the case where you start shoveling the data and simply become addicted to consumption and never start building. Yup, been there… this morning. How about when I excitedly Drift into an article, but can never channel hard earned potential energy into the piece? Yeah, turns out writing is more work than magic.
As with many of the nerd tendencies I’ve documented over the years, you accept that there is a modicum of risk pushing your brain to a mental fringe, but it’s fringe where you’ll find the unexpected and that’s why I Drift.