An Oasis of Quiet

In John Cleese’s talk on creativity, he suggests that it takes time for your mind to quiet down to the point where you can do thoughtful, meaningful, creative work.

He suggests setting aside 90 minutes for this kind of work: 30 minutes for your mind to calm down and then 60 minutes after that to allow for something to happen.

I think it’s interesting he doesn’t say: 30 minutes to calm down, 60 minutes to do work. He says: 30 minutes to calm down, 60 minutes to allow for the possibility of doing work.

You can’t force it, but you can create and nurture an environment for it to happen.

This is why people like designers and engineers hate those thirty minute blocks between meetings. It’s just enough time to let your mind settle down before you have to jump to the next meeting.

So, the choices you feel left with are:

  1. Go ahead and try to do some thoughtful work. Get into a thoughtful mode and after 30 minutes, when the next meeting is about to start, either A) forget that you had a meeting because your mind is quiet and focused, or B) get starkly interrupted by a notification to go to your meeting.
  2. Don’t try to do thoughtful work at all. Just conceded that those 30 minutes are burned for any thoughtful work and go on a walk or try to do a task like email.

It can be hard to think of scheduled, blocked-out time on a calendar functioning as a slot for the mere possibility of something to happen. But I like John’s suggestion to create “an oasis of quiet” that allows you to do the kind of work you want to do but are so easily distracted from under the guise of productivity.