Get off the computer if you want to do anything original

Being in front of the computer is detrimental to your thinking. I’ll go as far to say that it kills your creativity. It robs you of your ability to have eureka moments of new ideas.

As someone who writes code but also indulges in a fair bit of big-picture thinking, I’ve seen this happen to me repeatedly. I think most people in professions that require creative problem solving work in two modes.

The wired-in mode is where I’ll work on something for hours at end. For me this usually involves writing code, developing a front-end UI, or solving a problem that requires digging in, understanding new concepts, and coming up with solutions. These are phases of being “in the zone”, the most satisfying periods of work for me. I’d imagine for a writer this is when they are on a roll churning out hundreds of words in a stretch. For a painter, this is probably when it’s just them, the canvas and the long night ahead. However, imho, this is not when original thinking happens, at least not often. This is the mode to be productive, to advance your work. For me though, this is not the mode when I develop new insights and ideas.

The second, dormant mode is where the thing at the top of your mind (the problem, project, or idea) is a running thread, albeit in the background. It’s there and your brain is silently working away at it — unraveling the tangled threads, getting rid of extraneous data, surfacing important information. You are almost unaware this is happening. You are likely engaged in a low-effort activity like driving, showering, pacing your living room, or even dreaming. And boom, once in a rare while, if you’ve been at it long enough in this dormant mode, there is a moment of insight. The eureka moment. The aha thing that escaped your best efforts when you were wracking your brain in frustration trying to come up with a new idea or solution. There is of course, a lot of work ahead of you to validate it, to test it, to develop it. But, you now have a new direction, a path worth exploring. The only requirements — patience, relentless thinking, readiness to spend long spells of what appears as inactivity, and the most important, time away from that glowing screen for when that moment finally presents itself.

I like to think of it as an alternate interpretation of the Zen proverb – When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.