16 Sep 2014, 20:44

Step away from the computer

16 year old me would be ashamed. Here I am writing a post advocating less time at a computer.

When I was younger I used to glorify the hacker ethic. I’d code, and code, and code. I would read and watch everything I could about software development. I’d spend as much time as I could at the computer. By 30 years of age I had more than 20 years of software development experience. I thought that was a smart way to achieve my goals.

As I’m getting older, I’m seeing the value of stepping away from the computer & just thinking.


I’m no runner, I never will be. I’m a plodder. But, a couple of years ago I started plodding around a couple of times a week. What I noticed was that when I went running, I’d have time to think. Clear thoughts too. I was away from distractions, alone to think. It was a stark contrast to almost every other hour of my day.

You’ll be amazed at the value you can get from having time to think long and clearly about things.

As an example, on one particular run a year or so back I realised I had an opportunity to make $25,000 that wouldn’t take much effort. I never would have thought of it if I was gazing at a computer screen, or being interrupted by my phone.

Not all benefits of having time to think are financial of course. Being alone with my thoughts has been a good way to rationalize them & understand my own motivations better. It helps cut through the noise and get clarity on all the things going on around me. I’m happier because I understand myself and my goals better.

The computer is a tool, not a lifestyle

Herein lies the issue – we’re all staring at our phones, our computer screens and soon, our watches. It has become a way of life when it really shouldn’t be. When you need to leverage a computer you should, but in reality it’s probably far less than you do.

Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan

Reading the biographies of the old tycoons has made me appreciate that time to think is a true strength & differentiator. The terrific wealth and power created at the time was certainly a function of a lack of laws, but also, I think from being able to spend more time thinking. There were substantially less distractions than there are today.

Plenty of time was spent alone, in an office. The most advanced tools they had was often a blackboard and a slide rule. More time was spent thinking about strategy, not checking what Twitter had to say, or getting text messages.

Some, like Rockefeller, demanded contact in writing rather than telephone to better manage distractions out of his life.

Even in modern times, folks like Bill Gates would take reading weeks, going away & off the grid to read, plan and define strategy without distraction.

What works for me

Everyone is different, but here’s what works for me.

  1. Find an hour a day that you can be alone (this can be tough at times).
  2. Experiment with music, or no sound, as a background. What works for me varies.
  3. You don’t have to run. A walk is also good – something mildly active seems to stimulate thoughts.
  4. It’s not always about great insight, sometimes it’s just to clear my head and get some exercise.

Your thinking time

When do you get time to think? Are you finding that time frequently enough?