This question made me realise I need to slow down

A simple realisation to improve both productivity and relationships.

Cal Newport and Ali Abdaal are on a podcast. The former just published a book called Slow Productivity and the latter, a book called Feel Good Productivity. Both productivity thought leaders in their own way.

On the podcast, they riff and co-create what I think is a fascinating "metric" to measure whether your definition of productivity needs to slow down:

How stressed do you get when your kid interrupts you while working?

Are you "stressed out of your gils" even before your kid knocks on your door? So that when they knock, your face turns red, frustrated because you're maintaining a house of cards, and the last thing you need is to be called on by your kid for your attention?

Or are you able to disengage with your work and accept the interruption as a kind of "good clutter" / "welcome distraction"?

That's the difference between slow productivity and hustling, modern, unhinged productivity.

I'm trying to answer this question in my mind, but a recent memory washes up.

The time I was stressed when interrupted

I was sitting in my bedroom, on a call with a few leaders in the company. Near the end of the call, one of the C-level folks eventually says to me in front of the group,

"Nick, maybe you or – I don't know – someone else runs with this. But we're not leaving this call until someone is volunteered or volunteers to lead this and make sure things happen."

Because I was looking for opportunities for career growth, I did the most logical thing and said, "Looking at what's currently on my plate, I can take this forward."

But, that afternoon, my two and a half year old daughter comes home from childcare busting open the door into the bedroom. She lets herself into the space where I work. Then she shouts, "Daaaaaadddeeeee," without context and starts jumping on my bed. She's giggling gleefully.

As this was happening, I pretend not to hear a thing. My AirPods were stuffed in my ears and I knew that she understood that meant daddy might not be able to hear her.

She continues to bounce on the bed, making a ruckus and obviously having a lot of fun at my expense.

I don't pay any attention to her because:

  1. I need to focus on work! Just got handed a key to unlocking career growth. Lots to figure out and prove.
  2. I don't want to normalise her interrupting me when I'm working.

And that second thought did it.

I turn my head to her, lock eye contact, and slowly take my AirPods out of my ears and say,

"Charlotte, daddy is working. I'll come play with you later, but right now you're distracting me and I cannot focus. Can you play outside, please?"

She listens to me attentively. Then, she proceeds to use my bed as a trampoline as if I hadn't said anything.

So I feel my face going hot. Where the hell is my wife? Our deal has always been that she looks after Charlotte during office hours, and I'll do my part before and after.

It is 4:30pm. She should know I've got work to do... why is she not taking her?

I lose my patience and shout, "Hey! Can you come get her? I can't work like this!"

My wife comes. She doesn't say a word. She takes her away and closes the door to the bedroom.

I feel relieved. Then I feel sad.

A tinge of heartache. Something about what transpired felt off, even in that moment. Or maybe I'm just dreading a conversation with my wife that I knew we were going to have in the evening about this.

But I press on. Got to focus. Figure out stuff. Lots to prove.

Then, 6:00pm comes around. I am at least principled about leaving work on time. So I close my laptop, open the bedroom door, and enter the living room.

Charlotte looks at me and gives me a wide grin. Then, she lets out the same long call out – "Daaaaaaadeeeeeeeeeee..." And then she dashes toward me and hugs my leg. As if I hadn't done what I had done.

I bend down to return her hug and I press her tiny body tight against my chest.

As her body warms my heart, I realise that I had been unexpectedly forgiven, but that I probably won't be so lucky the next time if I don't change.

One day, if I keep ignoring her, she will stop wanting to come busting into my room. That's when I'd know I've lost something truly valuable.

A few noteworthy and related ideas from the episode:

"I had to be very careful about not shifting professional productivity mindsets over to personal life." – Cal Newport (timestamped video url)
"When I was at university, I would leave my door propped open all the time. Because a 'welcome distraction' is a friend coming up the stairs popping their head in and having a chat. That's the point. Maybe it reduces my productivity by 3 percent. [...] But the point of university is not that I get an extra 3 percent in my exam. It's that I have those connections." – Ali Abdaal (timestamped video url)

Subscribe to Nick's Notes

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.