Thursday, February 18, 2016

Slack time has benefits

Ah, I ramble a lot in this blog post. This is not unusual but my attempt to clean it up, even a little, is.
Image from Catenary.

I'm writing this post for two reasons.  First, I had an idea for a book but was beaten to the punch:  Slack is a business book, written by Tom DeMarco.  It appears to be entirely serious and a valuable resource for managers.

Second, on her blog, Cheryl Reif wrote about how  downtime and time away from, well, stuff, to be important for creative output.
Safety + Relaxation -> Your alpha brain waves (important for creative thinking) increase. Your inner critic takes a nap; your brain starts playing with wild and crazy connections, and coming up with creative solutions.
Pro Tip: When you fill your spare moments with podcasts and ink and other information-packed audio, you take away opportunities for your brain to wander into that relaxed state where free association is more likely to occur. 
There are times when I feel I need my podcasts or music to complete a run, when I just feel like quitting and need the distraction.  At other times, I find I am able to ignore the music when I want to think about other things.  I have listened to most of my music tens or even hundreds of times so I am able to get into it and sing along or ignore it as needed.  Recently, I also began adding five minute clips of 'empty', of nothing, so I can better daydream.
Boredom Encourages Creative Connections
Perhaps, though, you’re easily bored. It’s not just that you’re trying to learn more and be more productive; you want to avoid thumb-twiddling and time-wasting.
OK, ramblin' time:

Around two years ago, I toyed with the idea of making at least the synopsis for a book in the Malcolm Gladwell tradition titled "Slack". From the Google Doc I made to hold the idea:
(A Malcolm Gladwellian discussion of barely connected subjects that might or might not reveal a common pattern and about which no real improvement or change is possible)
In every system, there is some slack; a little room for independent action or negotiation, for free will or personal preference.  As the population increases and resources become more limited, this slack is removed, life becomes tauter.  This article looks at efficiency in restaurants, big-box stores and hospitals, athletics, school extra-curricular activities and fieldtrips, and social norms. Do we need more slack in our lives?  I believe so but I do not believe it is possible to increase it; this is a one-way reaction

What humour might come out of the story was going to be in the attempt to parody Blink or similar books.  The stereotype for a Gladwellian book is to have several articles or chapters, each one well researched and clear but with only a weak connection or moral for the book as a whole.  The sum of the parts being greater than the whole.

And yet I feel the point that including slack into a system is valid and is not mean to be funny on its own.

What is Slack?  In the title for this blog post I specified 'time' as an element, but it also includes resources and choices.
But when you arrest and expel students for slaking their scientific curiosity, whatever the other consequences of that action, be advised that you are almost certainly sacrificing a valuable scientist at the altar of arbitrarily wielded state and school power
At my son's school in 2013, there were a lot of 'snow days'.  The school was closed for five days because the weather made getting to and from school dangerous.  At a meeting, the principal told us that there was enough slack in the schedule that teaching content would not be lost.  It was this statement that made me first consider the concept of slack as a valuable item.

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