I hated sorting socks. I hated it so much that, for a time, I owned twenty one pairs of identical black socks so that I would not have to sort the damned socks. Why did I hate sorting socks? I felt like the act of sorting was a drain on perfectly good time that could be spent on non laundry related things; eating, playing video games, and not doing laundry.
Return of the Damned Socks
I consider myself a reasonably fashionable individual and thus unique socks, no matter how much I loathe sorting them, are something I cannot avoid. How could I live with myself knowing that my socks don't match what I am wearing for the day (sarcasm, sort of)!
I lived with my fashion faux pas for a time. Life was simple and socks didn't need sorting. Things turned sour when I moved into Boston. I had just gotten a job at a startup in Cambridge and wanted to update my wardrobe a bit. This update ended up changing my style all together. Gone were the skinny jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies. In their place came chinos, vibrant collared shirts, and jackets (reference).
Wearing the same black socks everyday with my new wardrobe would not work. And so, over the course of a few months, I acquired some decent socks with various patterns and colors. Some were orange, some were cyan, some had days of the weeks stitched on them. After awhile, I realized that I returned to a state that I hated. I had to sort the damned socks everytime I laundered my clothes. Damn!
Pieces of the Puzzle
I had just recently watched John Cleese lecture on creativity, read Paul Graham's 'How To Get Startup Ideas', and was ruminating over the ideas presented. Coincidentally, I was also folding laundry. Also coincidentally, I was thinking about starting a programming blog; however, I loathed the idea of having to come up things to blog about. It felt like a large time commitment.
With those thoughts in mind, something magical happened. I realized that I didn't have to allocate a chunk of time, typically at the end of my laundry folding sessions, to sort the socks. John Cleese suggested that when a person is in their time slot to be creative, they should let idea's flow; however, they should also gently redirect the thoughts back towards the purpose of the creative time slot, e.g. blog posts. Furthermore, Paul Graham suggests that when we are trying to come up with idea's we should try to encourage its occurance naturally. In other words we should be aware that we are looking for ideas as we go about our day. This background running process will in time yield moments of insight that translate into a good idea.
Back to socks! Let's support that the time slot for folding laundry my creativity time slot, where my end goal is to fold all of my laundry, and the background process as my desire to sort socks. Instead of going out of my way to spend a chunk of time to sort socks, I instead gently remind myself that I am folding laundry and that I should sort socks as I go, then whenever I accidentally gain an insight, i.e. a pair of socks that match, I will pair them up at that exact moment. This makes it so that there is no dreaded moment in time where I have to sort socks. I now just pair up socks if chance has it that notice a matching pair. It's kind of like opportunitic optimizations. Since adopting this new laundry paradigm, life has been a lot better. I no longer dread sorting socks because I never actually have to sit down and sort them.
Likewise, I no longer have to sit down and brain storm blog post ideas. I just go about my day normally, but I also gently remind myself every once in awhile that if I am on the lookout for post idea. This subtle shift allows me to be more aware of moment of insights that I can blog about.
In the end, this blog post is about keeping a background mental process that is tuned to whatever objective it is that you desire. It can be blog post ideas, business ideas, matching socks, or anything. What this background process affords is the chance to detect serendipitous insights that could change our lives.