Yesterday Chris Dixon tweeted a link to this thought-provoking blog post by Cal Newport about needing downtime to truly get into deep work. I agree with much of it, such as this nugget:
If you’re looking for the next Tao, in other words, ignore the guy checking e-mail while running to his next meeting, and look instead towards the quiet fellow, staring off at the clouds, trying to figure out what to do with his afternoon.
I'm no mathematician or someone who ever expects to think deeply enough and work hard enough to get a Nobel or Pulitzer or the like... but I am someone who tries very, very hard to think both short-term and long-term. I make time to think about 3 months, 12 months, or even further into the future and to begin planning for those days ahead.
Yesterday I tweeted that I did not agree with Newport fully. Particularly what didn't sit right with me was this statement:
As a professor who also blogs, I know that posts are something you do only when you have down time. I conjecture, therefore, that Tao’s large volume of posting implies he enjoys a large amount of down time in his professional life.
I'm probably picking at nits here but I do not believe that writing on one's blog should be considered something that is only done during down time or free time. And now that I've re-read Newport's post a few times I do not believe he meant it that way. I don't think he meant that writing on one's blog is frivolous or that it can only be done when you have absolutely nothing else to do. I believe he simply means that one needs to find the time or take the time needed to think and that isn't done by people who jam pack their days with meetings, email, Twitter and the like.
Sorry for misunderstanding you at first Cal.
So, in the end. I totally agree. In fact, when I said that I make time to think, what I actually mean is that I make time to write. When I'm thinking I'm usually writing. Not every post sees the light-of-day. Not by a long shot. I feel very much like Fred Wilson in his post Writing It Down:
As all of you know, I write every day. It is my discpline, my practice, my thing. It forces me to think, articulate, and question. And I get feedback from it.
I write every day. I don't publish every day like Fred does. I wish I did. I probably should. But writing, for me, is my way of deep thinking. I then get to edit my thoughts. What a beautiful idea! To write something down that you're thinking about and, rather than the thought simply going away, you can go back and and begin to craft that idea and mold your own opinion until you can fully come to a conclusion.
Perhaps that is what Terry Tao, the subject of Newport's post, is doing. Maybe he's like me. Maybe he writes things down as a way of thinking through his ideas. A cursory glance at his blog leads me to think this is true.
Another example of people that use writing as a way to think and provide feedback is Asymco who uses their posts and community to begin a dialog around data and to learn what the data tells them. They form an opinion or a set a ideas and facts based on the data they have, they post that to the web, and hope that the community will help them to confirm their findings or to help them throw them out and come do different conclusions.
Make time to write. You'll think better.