I’m very lucky to live close to my work. Most days, to get to the Formidable office, I hop on the bus for a ten minute ride. To pass the time, I gaze out of windows and observe the marks of the passage of time on the city, sometimes pausing briefly for wistful remembrances of my youth. That and Twitter. I wear out the pull-to-refresh gesture like you wouldn’t believe because the bus is boring as hell.
A few months ago I started working on-site at a client’s office a few times a week, which took my commute from ten minutes to an hour. I wasn’t keen on throwing away two hours of my day, and even Twitter has its limits, so I started working on better ways to pass the time. I realized quickly that my commute wasn’t something that I had to get through, but two solid blocks of uninterrupted, distraction-free time, which is actually pretty valuable.
The first key to harnessing this time that’s been given to me was learning to ignore the powerful supercomputer hooked up to all of the world’s knowledge and funny animal pictures that I keep in my pocket. My secret weapon in this battle against distraction? I switched my phone’s data plan to the smallest one available. The cost of a data overage is an excellent deterrent to spending all of your time reading “think pieces” or whatever.
I kind of cheated on this one, because I actually changed my data plan a few months before any of this. It was for essentially the same reason though: I wanted to be more present, and I lack the self-control necessary to not soak in a big vat of internet whenever a free moment presents itself.
With smartphone procrastination made difficult for myself, I was free to pursue other interests— whatever those are.
When I was younger, I read voraciously. I feasted on a book or two per week, sometimes more. I was a shy, weird kid who lived on a chunk of land far from the nearest town. Books sustained me, showed me new possibilities. I was on some real Reading Rainbow shit. In college, I pillaged the library stacks for new ideas, new stories. I hurt my back carrying piles of books. After graduating, I started to work full time and got tired and irritable and hardly read at all.
As a result, I had accrued a sizable backlog of reading material taking up space in my apartment. I brushed off the dust and packed a couple of books in my bag, and it was good. I quadrupled the number of books I had read over the preceding year in a month. I started to think about what else I could do with the time.
The first thing that I did when I decided to work on the web was build a blog. I saw it as the sign of a true web worker. I would share the things that I learned, new ideas, idle thoughts. I wrote four posts in four years, and that’s a charitable way to characterize it. Whoops!
I used to love writing almost as much as reading. The desire to write never went anywhere, but the discipline necessary got lost somewhere along the way. With my newfound source of distraction-free bus time, it felt like a good chance to give writing another shot. I picked up a good notebook and a good pen, along with a laundry list of blog post ideas I’ve been handing on to, and put pen to paper, and it was good.
For now, I focus on writing and publishing, and try not to worry about making things perfect. In a good week, I write one or two short posts. Every Tuesday, I publish one. When I write in the morning, I get to stretch my mind and wake up slowly. I find myself more ready for the day ahead. When I write in the evening, I reflect and relax. I don’t let whatever dumb programming problem I was working on during the day infiltrate my mind (unless I’m writing about it, of course).
Writing instead of typing forces me to keep a slow, thoughtful pace. The act of writing becomes meditative. I understand my ideas better after I write them down. I understand myself better, too. If I don’t want to write, or if I’ve finished for the day, I reach for a book. It’s good.