Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mental Hygiene

One of the most important life skills I am developing is mental hygiene. For knowledge workers, concentration is the raw ingredient of getting things done. But concentration is hard to come by. Each morning I start my day at work by sitting down in front of an infinite information machine - not the most productive environment for an active mind.

Mental hygiene helps me ignore the siren call of the internet and get my work done. It means that I am careful to avoid preloading my brain with non-work topics in the morning from personal email or the internet. For example, I know that if I read something political in the morning on facebook or a news site I will end up reading dozens of political blog entries throughout the day. On the days surrounding the election this year, I made roughly zero progress at work. That is fine for small stretches of days, but I won't remain effective or employed for very long if I make it a constant habit.

The downside of practicing mental hygiene is that I become less informed about non-work topics. I have become a worse correspondent, a less frequent blogger, and I have ceased to be an MMA fan. But that is what "focus" means. The price of being good at a large number of things is to give up the opportunity to be great at any one thing - it's the difference between a flashlight and a laser beam. I am giving up a bit of breadth to acquire some depth.

In the knowledge economy depth is highly valued.

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