Some days play out this way. They are ordinary and special, strange and familiar: You can find new in the old.
You just wrapped up another call. There are thirty minutes before your next meeting. You eye your phone. There are a few text messages and one new voice mail. None of them look too important. You catch up on the most recent Slack conversations. There is nothing requiring a real response yet, but it does seem necessary to just be aware of how things progressed. There seem to be quite a few moving pieces.
You made some progress on today’s messages during a previous break, so you are not going to open your mail client right now. There is an open notebook in front of you, some loose papers next to it with handwritten questions and phrases here and there. You glance to the screen on your right. You see an open window of a note taking software, partly obscuring a window showing a task list.
The screen to your left shows a calendar with your schedule. A notification pops up: Your next call was just canceled due to a conflict. You catch yourself, realizing you were holding your breath. You exhale and relax your forehead, then close your eyes. Somehow you still see the screens, windows and notes. The writing blurring, questions unclear. For a few moments you just stare and breathe.
Ten minutes later, you are outside. Perhaps the sun is shining hot. Maybe it is snowing or raining hard. It does not matter. It feels like it is just you, in the street. You begin moving, first slow, gradually starting to jog. After about five minutes you are starting to hit your stride. A mile in, you feel warmed up and you keep going. The noise begins fading into the background, quiets. You continue on.
Rolling hills, quiet streets, straining thighs. Breathing timed with your steps. Two miles, four. Five, seven. Ten or sixteen, maybe more. It depends on the day, it depends on you. Faster or slower, you push forward, perhaps to the pain or exhaustion, sometimes past it. You run, until you are done. You give yourself to this. It is one thing to do, like a meditation.
You went to a different place and when you return, you are drenched. It was maybe the rain and definitely a lot of sweat. You are not the same now, you cannot do this, without it changing you. As you are cooling down, drinking water, having a bite to eat, maybe stretching, you smile in anticipation.
It happens fifteen maybe thirty minutes later: Quiet. It is different than earlier, your entire body now feels tired, but you are wide awake, your mind calm and alert. Your thinking clear and sharp, you pause and appreciate — and then you step back into the office and look at your recent notes. As you are reading, a mental image forms, its edges clear, by itself, without distortions.
Now is the time, now you will get somewhere.
Deep work needs clear thinking — and for that you need clarity of mind. There are probably many ways to help yourself set the right conditions to find that place of clarity.
Running is one way for me to get there. It is a happy one, too: There is joy in the run and I appreciate the place at which I arrive.