What can I do in ten minutes?
I recently – within the last month – realized something. Like most blinding insights, this one seems deceptively obvious. I have been confronted with it (by others) since first grade, and in the years since I have confronted it (on my own) in as many ways as there are threats, rage, and delicious distraction.
I have a short attention span.
The preceding statement is neither accurate nor precise. The truth is this: when I have a thought – any thought – it’s connected to another thought.
And that thought is…yes. Connected to another – no – three other thoughts, six, twelve, darting caffeinated-hummingbird thoughts. Related, or diverging: it makes no difference.
I call this fractalization, or rabbit-hole thinking.
If I want the thought that started all this mayhem, the Patient Zero (it may be the date of someone’s birthday, or critical insight into an essay, or my new improved plans to clean the kitchen [an ongoing campaign]) – I have to track it down, tackle it, pin it to paper (or text) and carefully move onwards from that point with the greatest of caution, like Hobbits taking a shortcut.
Having accepted this means accepting that two decades of self-experimentation has not altered the basic way my brain processes information. So I’ve decided not to fight my brain; it’s ill-advised to argue with someone who controls your central nervous system, after all.
Honestly, I don’t even mind that my thoughts play Pinball Wizard. My main frustration at this point is that they don’t give me a little time to catch up – a sort of permanent mental whiplash. But I’ve learned not to expect more than ten minutes of focus.
To this end, I think with a notebook. I think through handwriting – cursive, preferably, the rhythm of loops and dashes acting as a sort of resistor to crackling tangents. I cover the page and I put down everything, drawing lines between sections in classic conspiracy-theorist style until the page looks like a bowl of spaghetti minus the sauce.
All these written notes move to the computer, and I start rearranging them, chopping and splicing and cutting and resuscitating (lightning rods involved only rarely).
When ten minutes looms (like midnight), I step back and try to view the writing as a system. What acts on it? What does it act on? What, logically, should be related to it? What can I safely say is always external to the system? Are there patterns, does it remind me of anything? If so, trace why. If need be, return to the notebook.
The important thing is this: I finally understand that there are different types of focus. Reading (taking in information) is different from brainstorming (making connections), and both of these are different from writing (producing, making new thoughts, “adding value”). It is to writing, specifically, that the ten-minute window applies.
Thus, if I want to produce anything meaningful I have to give myself time. Together, these three types of focus are part of a larger system of thought, always humming along in the background. It can take a while (sometimes years) for new additions to be integrated, assimilated, the changed meaning they give the whole understood. Like Shiva, the line between creation/chaos is “yes.” Unlike Shiva – with instantaneous-infinity to work with – my thoughts have a ten minute lifetime.
Share thoughts on focus, fractals, and thought-wrangling!