Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thinking Lists

Lately I've noticed there are some flaws in my Mental Calvinball games, which have been preventing me from making the best intellectual use of my time at work. As noted before, the particular sort of game I've chosen is to count the dishes as I wash them, giving myself different multiples to count by to up the difficulty. Recently I've also taken to using my cellphone as a stopwatch to time how long it takes to complete certain tasks, such as cleaning a particular portion of the kitchen or peeling potatoes. It's done well to keep my mind on my work and to enhance my performance, but in some instances it's inadequate.

For one, restaurants are not busy 100% of the time. There are some nights in which I get so few dishes that counting them does no good to keep my mind on the task. On others we may be so drastically busy that I find, given a certain multiple, that I can't count the dishes in the pace I need to operate at to be efficient at my job. Such difficulties could give rise to the possibility of leaving my mind unengaged and allow for intellectual idleness or, god forbid, my dwelling on the Circumstance. Consequently, I've learned I need to cover my bases more effectively so as to allow my mind to be productive at all times, no matter what the circumstance or working condition. Obtaining such a level of preparedness would allow me to be more productive, focused, concentrative, and intellectually stimulated.

As such, I've decided to re-institute my thinking lists. Previously, while I was a Park Ranger, I maintained thinking lists as a way to encourage thinking in what was a predominantly physical line of work, but I stopped maintaining them since I thought it felt too much like I was "forcing" my consciousness. I see now a possible use for them as a way of filling up gaps in my time.

As the name might suggest, these lists are simply listings of topics to think about. While I'm out and am not particularly mentally engaged I might not know how to best direct my mind, so such a list is useful in that instance since it can suggest topics to occupy myself with: a particular entrepreneurial idea I have, a self-improvement goal I haven't sufficiently entertained, a question I posited but didn't investigate, and more. In times when I'm mentally "lost," this list can provide a useful direction to go in.

All I do is write a list of topics that I want or need to think about and keep it in my pocket at all times, along with my trigger list of concepts to do conceptual exercises for. If the situation calls for it, I can just glance at my list and be on my way.

With the current circumstances I face at my workplace right now, I think these practices -- Mental Calvinball, conceptual exercises, and thinking lists -- are sufficient to keep me engaged at all times. If I'm busy at the sink washing dishes, then I can do Mental Calvinball or use my thinking list; if I find a space of time with nothing to do but wait for something, then I can do conceptual exercises; if I'm engaged in a particularly long and repetitious task, then I can use my thinking list. Perhaps I could even work to combine methods. Pulling apart cuts of chicken to create chunks for soup, for instance, could engage both Mental Calvinball (timing the task) and my thinking list. Whatever the conditions are, idleness is inexcusable.

I'm not sure if it's my natural predisposition or the result of my lifestyle, but I find that there's a real need for the intellect in my life. The more I think and the more I master thinking the more it integrates itself into my value hierarchy and essential habits. Once someone managed to give me a slight headache by switching the topic of conversation away from something that excited my brain, and another time I had managed to make my head feel literally hungry since I decided to go for a walk before starting my studies. Without the use of my mind I'm unhappy. One night while at work I became very frustrated when I found I couldn't do my Mental Calvinball at the pace the dishes needed to be done. The best metaphor I've seen to summarize such an attachment to the intellect can be borrowed and rephrased from Sherlock Holmes: an active mind with nothing to contemplate on is like an engine without a car, for without a car it remains in one place and racks itself to pieces.

I'm certainly open to adding more mental practices if I find them valuable -- you can never have enough values -- but for now I think this will cover my bases totally. Unintentionally I have come to alter my lifestyle so that I can literally make use of every moment of life, whether at home, work, or in a waiting room. Given what such short lives we have, that's exactly where I want my practices to be.

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