Flaneuring

Yesterday I ate my lunch at a restaurant. It was just an ordinary hotel restaurant, and I happened to be the only customer at the time.

The waitress was very friendly and even apologised for the cleaning staff vacuuming in the lobby. I told her it’s okay. Actually it was nice to have some noise to break the silence. I believe having a radio on or other background music would have distracted me far more.

I took out my notebook and began sketching and making lists and notes. For some reason I felt very decisive and productive. While waiting for my meal I covered a lot of things I’ve procrastinated about for a long time.

No wonder Sartre wrote his books at cafés. There seem to be things that are virtually impossible to do at home. At least for me. Or if I get them done, it might literally take weeks or months before I force myself to begin. Those things are:

  • planning
  • brainstorming
  • making decisions

I can come up with several explanations why some work is easier at public places.

    • No distractions. At the cafeterias, railway stations, or restaurants basically the only things of relevance to you are the ones you’ve carried with you. At home there are multitudes. Every item carries a meaning, probably reminds you of something you’ve done or you should do. This all makes it harder to concentrate just on the subject matter at hand.
      • People are watching you. You are reading or writing something. At least subconsciously you feel obliged to go on doing what you started. At the restaurant I took out my notebook and started scribbling. Now when I think about it, making only a note or two on an empty notebook would have seen somehow wrong, considering I somehow managed to create a vision (at least for myself) of being a busy guy with something important to do. You’ve got audience, and you have to go on acting. You don’t want to appear as a fake.
        • You see people. Usually procrastination means there is something you want to avoid. Something you’d rather not think about. We humans are pack animals, and we don’t want to be alone if something worrying happens. At a cafe you can look around, see other people, reason that they seem to be OK and go on working on the hard part, because maybe it really isn’t the end of the world after all.
          • Positive distractions. Maybe you feel stuck on something. There’s plenty of things you can use to clear your mind for a while. Have another cup of coffee. Watch that guy outside trying to park his van. There are some things that might grab your attention, but usually they won’t last too long either. They’re nothing to take part in. At home you’d see a book, or a heap of dirty clothes, or a television. There are things that might get your attention for hours and eventually spoil the whole day.

          It seems the point is in breaking the solitude. At home I can very easily fall in a nearly vegetative state and just let the hours pass. I get nothing done and feel awful afterwards.

          Steve Pavlina makes roughly the same points in his essay Working in unusual places. Worth reading.

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            One Response

            1. […] have to go out. Actually, I think I’d visit a restaurant […]

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