In 2002, as a newly single parent of a 4 years old, I decided not to install cable-tv when I moved into my new apartment. My soon to be ex-wife at the time had reasoned that having the television on as background noise cut into a growing toddler’s ability to develop an inner voice. Research was showing this voice to be necessary for imaginative play and essential for executive functions as an adult. We had agreed to keep the tv off if we were not intentionally watching something and when I got my own place, I just didn’t have it installed.
It was during this time that I experienced an unprecedented burst of productivity. I had just started my first company, Kiwi Internet Group, a software consultancy. If you or someone you know has ever started a company, you understand how much work is involved. It’s never ending! Fun, sure, but the to-do lists just never get smaller. Between Kiwi, parental obligations at school, reconnecting to a social scene after 10 years of marriage, I managed to find time for product development, learning video editing and production, and substitute teaching at my child’s school. It was as if I could manufacture time.
I should also note that during this time, I was practicing Zazen meditation at the Chicago Zen Center in Evanston. I mention this because I feel it’s significant to one of the most productive times in my life. Not once during that time of my life did I feel anything less than a sense of accomplishment. I never felt that I wasn’t doing what I needed to do. Nothing fell through the cracks. I have always thought that not having cable-tv and meditation enabled my insane productivity.
Then I read this article in Harvard Business Review’s “Defend your research” section suggesting that mindfulness actually lowers motivation! The kicker of the research was that mindfulness apparently had a positive effect or no effect at all on productivity. What I found most fascinating about this research is that my life seems to support the article’s claims. I had meditated on a regular basis for about two years. My productivity burst seemed to have also lasted about two years.
Today I don’t meditate and, through the modern miracle of content streaming, I can watch whatever I want whenever I want. I am not as productive as I was those many years ago and I have a lot of trouble getting motivated.
I consider myself a highly introspective student of me. I observe myself, take in feedback, invent and adopt life hacks to make me a better human. For the most part it works. One of my most recent hacks came this morning. When I run (which I do three times a week) I get all sorts of ideas, they just start flooding in. I think it’s the increased blood supply to my brain. Some of the ideas are good, some of them make me laugh out loud. Today I came up with the idea of cataloging my running ideas into Evernote the minute I get indoors (it was cold out). When I got home I furiously typed out three ideas that were worth saving.
As one of the co-founders of Eight Bit Studios, and the co-founder who runs the tech team, I have no shortage of things that need to get done and things that I want to work on. I will be spending a lot of time over the next few months hacking my brain to unleash the motivation for creativity. I have no problem getting through the emails and todo lists. It’s when I want to push myself creatively that I run into motivation issues. I walk into this new year ready to hack my brain and keep motivated. 2019: Here I come!
Don Bora has been a professional software developer in Chicago since 1990. He has worked in: bio-informatics, medical devices, artificial intelligence, and global investment banking to name a few. Don also teaches, mentors, and is a guest lecturer at the Medill School fo Journalism at Northwestern University. As a co-founder of Eight Bit Studios, Don has been an outspoken advocate for women and girls in technology and is a champion for Diversity and Inclusion.