One day in 2015, Peter Shankman, social-media guru and angel investor, realized he was in tough. He’d fallen behind on a book he was supposed to be writing. The publisher wanted it in two weeks. He was nowhere near finished. He looked at his calendar. He knew he’d never get the book done in the cracks and margins of his crammed schedule.
So he booked a flight to Tokyo. When he landed at Narita airport, he quaffed an espresso in the business lounge, turned right around and hopped the next flight back home. The entire time he was traveling, save the odd minute here and there to summon the flight attendant for a fortifying snack, he wrote. By the time he landed back in New York — not much more than 24 hours after he left — he had a draft of the book. It was rough, but it was done.
Apparently, this gambit is catching on among a certain slice of the one-percenters. Nick Pandolfi, who works at Google, “traveled to Sweden in what he called an ‘extreme” effort to monotask,” the New York Times recently reported.
That’s about six degrees more extravagance than most of us can afford. Luckily, there’s a cheap alternative: Go to a coffee shop, one where nobody knows your name. Don’t bring your phone. And pretend you’re on a flight to Tokyo. Noah Kagan, tech entrepreneur and one of the original Facebook employees, calls this going into “airplane mode.” Think of it as 24 hours above the fray, out of play – no interruptions and no wifi signal. Priceless.
Double priceless if it’s creative work that needs doing.
Maya Angelou, when she was nearing deadline on a novel, used to rent a local hotel room and do a full-day bliz there – 6:30 am to 2pm – before heading home to edit.
Jim Cuddy, frontman of the band Blue Rodeo, likes to amscray into nature when an album’s coming due. One time, with a band meeting scheduled for the next day, Cuddy realized he had no new songs to bring. So he went to the lake at dawn with his guitar. As he noodled, the sun came up. There was nobody around. Cuddy has three kids. Moments like this were rare. They were gold. A musical line occurred to him. He followed it. By noon Cuddy had the bones of what would become one of the band’s biggest hits – “New Morning Sun.”
I call this strategy of getting physically away from distractions the “Skunk Works” factor.
That was the nickname of Lockheed Martin’s famous design group that broke the mold for airplane innovation in the Fifties and Sixties (and still operates today). Analysts have tried to figure out how the team was able to do so much, so insanely quickly. The consensus is that freedom and isolation were key. Skunk Works engineers were literally walled off from the corporate bureaucrats who would have slowed them down with cavils and “you-can’t”s. When airplane makers go into airplane mode, they mean business.
The moral is: Go somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. Get physically away.
Otherwise your neighbor is going to ask you to help him move his snow tires.