Splice of Life

How do you work?

One author reported that most people are more productive when working behind closed doors. Others insist upon pairing, sharing workspaces. Some cube just fine. Others, not. Some counsel focus, fuzzy or clear. The distracted praise procrastination. Heads-down, hands-on people insist that you really should just get 'er done. All exhort the elusive 'flow.' I doubt that we will ever see the end of well-intended, largely useless advice.

I find myself flourishing under each, and sometimes none of these schemes. Fortunately, I rarely have the luxury of getting to choose. When I plan a day in splendid isolation, the danged phone rings. When I'm suffering through an endless day of mind-numbing isolation, not only does the phone refuse to ring, nobody's there when I try to call my usual lifelines.

We work, it seems, in fits and starts. Some days more fit than others. A few fit for starting but not, apparently for finishing anything. Others only fit for finishing. Many hours wander that dark wood somewhere between, leaving not even footprints behind.

For me, I'm realizing that I rarely finish anything in one sitting, and almost never all by myself alone. I used to call this pattern time slicing, because it seemed to me that I was making progress by thin-slicing rather than by full loaves. But I've been realizing that this metaphor misrepresents what seems to happen. While I am working with less than full lengths, I am also splicing these bits together into ever longer pieces until a full thread appears. I'm time splicing.

I am not so much cutting as weaving one nerve-frayed end into another in those sometimes long distracted periods between sharp focus. I might not be creating during these 'fallow' periods, but I am integrating.

I do not usually splice alone. Others are almost always splicing with me, time-sharing the effort intended to extend ever longer threads. Should we think of this work as mere time-slicing, it seems mighty disintegrating. Shift the metaphor, and we are creating together even when we seem between doing anything.

When I speak with people about their work (or the work they feel frustrated at not ever being able to catch up with enough to complete) I hear time-slicing's subtle influence. How might your experience improve if you thought of the silences between the notes as integral to the emerging tune? If you appreciated the connections splicing creates? If you experienced those long pauses caused by that 'emergency' unscheduled meeting or the in-the-moment distracting telephone call as splice points, rather than knife-sharp slices into aspired to—but rarely experienced—continuous flow?

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