Much of my work occurs in front of a computer. I appreciate being able to do research online and I greatly value collaborating with others over chat, email, video conference or in person. It is rewarding and the capabilities of modern infrastructure allow astonishing levels of access to information and connectivity with services all around the world.
But ideally once a day I like to step away by myself with pen and paper and think.
Being connected has you plugged in. That is useful, but so is the opposite. So I physically step away from all that. I do not just close the laptop or turn away. I get up and leave the room, or at least the desk and find a quiet corner somewhere else. That is where I sit down, perhaps on the floor, without phone or computer or any other devices.
The point is to disconnect, to remove noise and distraction, to create a quiet space to spend time alone with your ideas, your thoughts.
It is about undivided attention and it is clearly easier to protect your attention, when you are not also receiving alerts for new emails, text messages and more at the same time, when it is not so easy to quickly search for an answer on the web. In the quiet, you will find there is more room for your own voice.
This is an excellent time to pursue questions, to reflect on new developments or learnings, to dedicate focus to solving specific problems or to simply relax into the experience and discover where your thoughts will take you.
With pen and paper
There is something about being alone and writing or sketching with an actual pen in a simple paper notebook. You are not browsing the web and going by other people’s findings. Rather, this is you. Pen, paper, you and your ideas. Your thinking made visible on the page.
Of course you could often find a fitting image or well-worded description online for a concept you are examining, but you ignore all that deliberately. Instead you struggle with the words yourself. It takes a while for it to sound right and maybe that is frustrating, but that is part of the experience.
It is not just about having arrived at an answer or some specific outcome. Rather, you also have the experience of having done so. The struggle, the work — there is reward and joy in that.
You might transfer your results to the computer, look things up and improve your thinking based on what you can find with other sources and if your ideas are any good, you might talk them over with other people. But all that is later, for now it is just you and this.
It is a simple practice, but I have gotten a lot out of it.