The self-checkout lines at Wal-Mart are closed today for some reason. And they’ve only got a couple lanes open on a busy Saturday morning. I’ve no idea why the man behind Wal-Mart has decided to mess my morning over like this. I position myself behind an elderly lady who will likely take a solid twenty minutes just to unload her butter, cat food, and a bunch of unrecognizable products that I’ll probably understand more in about twenty years.
This is going to be awhile.
Rather than getting bored and letting this time flit away, I do as I’ve trained myself to do. I pull out my phone and decide to take captive a few moments. I skim read through a couple of articles online, check some email, and respond to a few comments on social media.
I’m doing this because over a decade ago I was captivated by the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. As I’m taking captive a few moments in the check out line, I know that what I’m doing is following Edwards’ resolution #5. “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Rather than wasting my time by just standing in line like a big dumb ox, I’m getting stuff done.
And I’m likely destroying my brain and my ability to actually get stuff done.
I became convinced of the damage I’m doing by so quickly grabbing my smart phone when I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. Summarizing much research, Newport says:
Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the ‘mental wrecks’ in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration. (Deep Work, 158)
This is no fault of Edwards. He didn’t have a smartphone. His idea of “improving the time” was likely quite different than mine. I’m not sure if Edwards would have thought to value a bit of boredom, but I believe we should. There is something beneficial about slowing down and just standing in check-out line while everybody else is on their smart phones. I’m slowing my brain down and preparing it for moments of deeper work later.
Resolved, to keep my smartphone in my pocket, let the emails wait, and indulge in a bit of boredom for the sake of more productive work later…
Photo source: here