On Saturday my laptop gave up.
One too many times had the power cable been wrenched out unapologetically, dozens of Chrome tabs restored, the screen slapped shut without care. It was time for me to pay for my fast and loose attitude to a partner I probably spend more time with than any human (apologies to my wife).
I got through to Monday without too much trouble. The sun was out and the city was smiling.
On Monday morning I didn’t feel so easy. I took the laptop uptown to the repair store to discover further news of its condition. The initial prognosis was not good – in overnight for further tests, and no health insurance cover.
Setting up in a nearby coffee shop to check email and drink a sorrow-laden flat white (still a rare find in NYC; the sorrow-laden ones even more so I imagine), a number of things dawned on me in quick succession.
- How was I going to work without a laptop?
- I’d left my phone at home
- How was I going to get anything done today?
- What was the meaning of my life?
Rather than traipsing home to get my phone, I decided on another option.
This meant no email, no to-do list, no weekly goals plan, not even any Twitter.
All I had for company were a few pens, 2 pieces of paper, some post-its and a lonely laptop power cable.
I stayed put, vowing to take on my work day with renewed vigour.
At this point in the story you may be expecting the payoff: the moment of genius that struck; the pithy line or the killer insight.
Afraid not. My work that day was pretty average all being said.
What’s notable is that I remembered the power of a forcing mechanism.
Most of us are terrible at getting things done.
We usually need a forcing mechanism of some sort: time, ego, fear, accountability, money, scarcity.
Not only did my lack of technology force me to ignore the endless streams of digital communication, it forced me to think in different ways. As they say, constraints help with creativity.
What does a blog post look like when it’s on 8 post-its?
How does a tall & skinny wireframe for an app feel when it’s a shoved into a small square?
Most of the time – actually pretty crap.
But that’s the not the point. The forcing mechanism makes us ship. It makes us try something, anything. There’s not much space for procrastination.
What we do probably won’t be our best work, it may not even be anywhere close – but as our heads clear and we feel the push, one thing leads to another and brand new options and ideas become available to us. Those ragged post-its can form the basis of something you never even considered previously.
It’s like the difference between velocity and speed; better to go somewhere, somehow, ahead of moving quickly but just finding yourself just standing in the same spot you started in.
In today’s always-on world we’re probably all guilty of the latter from time to time.
Next time you feel stuck, find a forcing mechanism.