Many years ago, I remember my husband complaining that most of his work didn’t look like work, and co-workers sometimes thought he was slacking off. He was a mechanical designer, and much of what he did required imagining, and imagining just looks like day dreaming, and day dreaming looks like idleness.
He would sit at his drawing board or computer and gaze up–a lot. That’s how he solved mechanical problems and that’s how he came up with creative solutions. He was very good at what he did. So much so that at his funeral lots of his former colleagues told me how much they had admired his work.
If that seems like a contradiction, that’s because it is. It is perfectly understandable for someone to resent what they perceive as laziness while at the same time appreciating the product of that same person’s creativity. What some people don’t get—and these are usually not creative people—is that the one cannot happen without the other. So, administrators and the like might see thinking as inaction, and inaction as lost productivity, while designers and other creative types recognize the value of the solitary, silent, cerebral process.
Thinking is a task like any other. When I hear people bragging (sometimes humble-bragging) about multi-tasking, I want to stop them and say that there is no task that is not multi. Even cutting the grass involves thinking at the same time. You cannot not think while you are working.
The only time that it is possible to not think, so I’m told, is while meditating. I don’t know that for a fact, though, because I’ve never been able to do it. I’ve tried to empty my mind, but somehow it just keeps filling up in spite of my good intentions. But, theoretically, it’s possible. Otherwise, we are always thinking whenever we are doing some task or other, and thinking is work.
Sometimes when I am writing or drawing I have some music or TV show playing. I like to believe that they are occupying a part of my brain that would otherwise distract me from my task. So, my brain wants to multitask even if I don’t intend it to. Similarly, I can’t watch TV and do nothing else. I need also to be playing a word game on my laptop, or doing some crochet, or eating junk food, or baking cookies. Just sitting and watching isn’t enough.
When I needed thinking time at work, I used to go for walks around the office building. Sometimes I would hold a file folder to make my walking appear more purposeful, because otherwise it would just look as though I was lollygagging. The walking helped me to think creatively and/or to come up with solutions to problems, but it didn’t look like work. At least, not without the file folder.
With the folder my actions said “She’s on her way to a meeting” or “She’s just going to check some data” or “She needs to copy some important documents,” or whatever else an observer might assume. Without the folder, I would just get quizzical looks that said “If I can’t stop working, neither can you!” Always, the assumption would be that walking is not work. But if walking involves thinking about work, then it is not only work, it is multi-tasking. And multi-tasking is something to brag about.
Image source here.