The walk-o-doro: +1ing your creativity

I have a penchant for getting things done faster. The thing is - I think I've been wrong. Or at least partially wrong. Each post so far has been on trying harder somehow.

And while getting feedback faster is a crucial part in learning feedback is best used if you are working on the most fruitful path to the solution. If you keep bashing your head trying to solve it the same way - only harder - you are wasting your time.

The diffuse mode

In the course on coursera about learning how to learn we also learned about diffuse mode thinking. It's were you let your thoughts wander (or entering resting neural states to get scientific) - making very wide and sweeping patterns and combining things in novel ways.

Creativity lies on these shores. Connecting seemingly disconnected information in new ways and getting out of the rut. My problem is I've never (or seldom) used this mode of thinking. I've taken it for slacking off. If its not working - try harder. And it has worked - but more by mishap than I'd like to admit.

In hindsight its been quite obvious that it would have been very well invested time to break off the focused part with diffused mode breaks. Think for a while about when a solution comes up? In the shower? Doing dishes? On the bus looking out the window? I bet its here that it hits you.

But you can only get there via a while of focused attention to the problem first. You've gotta invest the initial time with focused attention. This is to define problems, getting to know the domain, the ins and outs of things etc.

Then take a break. Keep your problem ever so lightly in your head - a bit like meditating, keep bringing your focus ligthly back to the topic - but don't force it. Play with the idea, ask lots of questions to change perspective. All while being comfortably zoned out.

The pomodoro

GTD fetishists no doubt know the pomodoro technique. In short - you set a timer for 25 minutes to allow for uninterrupted focused study / work. Then you take a break for 5 minutes and iterate like this with a 15 minute break every fourth iteration. There is more stuff like planning and estimating time needed to complete tasks - but the main gist is focus -> relax -> focus etc.

I've tried out the pomodoro technique a couple of years back as a means of getting more things done - but ultimately it did not stick, it was a bit too rigid for my taste and work. Things did not happen in small comfortable 25 minute chunks. The world is still very async.

The other side of a pomodoro

I've recently started to use a timer akin to the pomodoro again. But this time for the flip side of the pomodoro - the breaks. Who doesn't love breaks right :)

You need to focus intently on something first - that's the first 25 minutes of the pomodoro. When the time is up you need to force yourself to take that break - because its here where the magic of the resting neural states can happen.

The 5 minute breaks present a very good opportunity to flip your thinking to the diffuse side. Its like planned mini moments where things can hit you - like in the shower, on the buss etc. The more opportunities for things to hit you - (hopefully) the more hitting you will get.

Look at it like a small ideation phase - ask lots of questions. What am I trying to solve? What is the (perceived) constraints of the problem. What might it not be (try reversing the problem). Really insert any lateral thinking technique. But in order to be careful not to go overboard and make the break too focused:

The walking

Walking has by research been proven to boost your creativity with up to 60 percent. While creativity might have an artsy connotation its also the secret awesome sauce in problem solving. You are trying to solve something you've never solved before and thusly combine things not before connected. The bread and butter of complex debugging.

Rumor has it that Henri PoincarĂ© used to write down all known parts of a problem and solving the easiest subproblems right off the bat. Then he'd focus intently on the hardest part for a while, put the pen down and go for a walk  keeping the problem ever so lightly in his mind.

Henri walks the walk. Should be enough of an argument for the rest of us mortals right?

Introducing - the walk-o-doro

If we then put pomodoro + breaks where you walk together we get - The Walkodoro! Sounds fancy, buts is the same old pomodoro timer, but you use it for the breaks where you walk away from your computer never to return!! .... Until the break is over that is.

Because during these breaks you'll hopefully come up with more creative ways of solving your problem. Its like  a roadmap check every now and then to make sure you are working hard on the most probable correct solution. Get up, walk around and think broadly. Use lateral thinking during these breaks and let your mind wander.

And walking in itself is great - even if you come up with nothing during that break - you'll have lost a few calories, avoided some carpal tunnel syndromes and quite possibly become a bit happier (and smarter) because of the endorphines.