Field Trips and Study Bursts

We all experience a peak — the period where we perform extraordinary work, the kind of work that contains the most human currency. And I squeeze most of my creative output — the stuff I share with the world  to serve my subscribers, customers, clients, partners or community — into around two to four hours of Focus Time each day (usually before 1 PM).

My Focus Time is respected and protected. I schedule the rest of my day around this block of intense, uninterrupted concentration. My phone is either off or in Do Not Disturb mode. If I’m working in a public space, you can find me wearing earplugs to tune out the random sounds of coffee grinders and strategy discussions. And I make sure to close my web browsers and work in Full Screen view to minimize consumption.

But you don’t need to be a math whiz to realize that Focus Time accounts for only 25 to 50 percent of my work day. There are still another four to six hours to allocate.

While most people spend 17 hours each week — or almost three and half hours each day — sending and responding to emails (something I kind of suck at) and on social media, I split my time on two other activities: Exploring and learning.

Because the work you see is only as good as the work you don’t see.

So just like I schedule my Focus Time, I also carve out a few blocks for Field Trips each week.

Sometimes it’s to a section of the bookstore that has nothing to do with my expertise. Other times, I’ll walk into an art gallery to take in a new installation. And more often than not, I simply get on the train only to hop off at a random stop and allow myself to be lost in my new-ish surroundings.

By the way, I love this definition, emphasis mine:

“A field trip is a visit to an area outside of the normal classroom where children can try new things, have different experiences, and learn valuable life lessons. A field trip can be to countless locations where students can see new sights and have hands-on opportunities in a wide variety of experiences. A field trip may be to a location right around the corner or may require a bus ride to a different town. Regardless, the objective of a field trip is to learn, be exposed to a different environment, and be able to try new things.”

I also schedule Study Bursts, 30- to 90-minute frames where I can research what’s going on at the intersection of creativity, performance and business. (A lot of the insights I share on this blog or in my business are the result of something I came across during a Study Burst.)

Obviously my work happens at my screen, but my creativity is activated when I get out into the world and create my own meaning from the thoughts, feelings and ideas of others. Whenever I’m feeling off-center or uninspired, I know I need to spend less time working, and more time exploring and learning.

Because as Austin Kleon wrote in his New York Times Bestseller, Steal Like an Artist:

“The computer is really good for editing your ideas and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us — we start editing ideas before we have them.”

I can vouch for that first hand: It’s the Field Trips and Study Bursts that fuel my Focus Time.