To See What’s in Front of One’s Own Nose Needs a Constant Struggle – Or Does It?

I can’t think hard and communicate (send email, sit in meetings, talk on phone, etc.) at the same time. Either I’m reacting and communicating, or I’m pausing, reflecting, thinking.

For people whose livelihood depend on constant communication with others (CEOs with many employees, or start-up entrepreneurs who live in the trenches and obsess over minutia) I ask them, “When and where do you find time to think?”

The answers vary.

Some can do what I cannot which is think deeply and communicate those thoughts in real time. Whereas the contemplative mind, for me, suffocates under a barrage of communication, for some it’s a fertilizer of sorts, the 24/7 “always-on” environment positively affecting their ability to think original thoughts, reflect on larger trends, and so forth. Others block off chunks of time to “unplug” and try to make sense of the chaos they just went through.

Andrew Sullivan is an example of the first case — a public intellectual and journalist who blogs 20+ times a day, often simple quick links or pithy bon mots. For him, I would guess his larger themes emerge in real-time from the thousands of data points he communicates each week. Niel Robertson, a successful technologist, is the opposite. He posts very infrequently but when he does they are long and clearly the result of a thoughtful pause and reflection. I’m guessing his style is to communicate like crazy with his team, read bits and pieces of posts and articles and news headlines 17 hours a day, and in general embrace the chaos that is today’s connected world…and leave the deep thinking to scheduled moments.

Me? I’m in the middle. Each week I live in chaos, sending and receiving hundreds of emails a day, reading thousands of news articles or blog posts each week, reading a book or two a week, and meeting new faces and old over meals. In the evenings or on the weekends, when there’s less going on, I budget time to read, write, and generally reflect. I do value Orwell’s line that “to see what’s in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” but I also find it hard to engage in this struggle on a daily basis.

How do you deal with this tension?

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