But the reality is, as most of us know, well otherwise. As I noted in yesterday’s blog, I worked all day on a presentation that I will make this morning. Powerpoint dumped a quarter of the deck around 8:00. That meant pressing through to 11:30. I went to sleep with the thing unfinished.
Something unpleasant happens to cognition under this kind of pressure. We lose our intellectual elasticity. It becomes harder and harder to make the larger point. It becomes harder and harder to see the larger point.
I think this tells us something about deck construction, that we are working on the particular details of each slide, and then periodically perform a "fly over" to see how things look and where we might go. At some point, these higher conceptual abilities just give up and go home.
Now the writing process is a forced march. We are visited by the sickening possibility that we might have to stand up in front of a roomful of people and have to embarrass ourselves. (After teaching my first class at HBS, I asked a colleague how I did. "Fine," he said, "there was no spreading stain on the front of your trousers, and that’s the first thing we look for.") And now that Powerpoint mysteriously erased a quarter of the presentation, we are living with this fear too. As time runs out, the pressure increases, the elasticity diminishes, and …
The thing I hate most is that the swirling stops. When we’re well rested, it’s as if the deck and the writing process is surrounded by lots of little idea parts and possibilities. Best case, we draw on these as we go. But when fear and exhaustion have done their work, the creative world becomes very quiet. We move from powerpoint to powerpoint, but really it’s not happening.
The trouble is I am, as we often are, working with diminished resources. I spend Sunday, Monday and half of Tuesday working flat out on a new project for a new client. I finished on schedule but I could tell I was feeling a little glasseyed. I took a break, to "recharge." But when really tired, we are very like the batteries that used to plague the laptop industry. Batteries would suffer a "false floor" effect. We could recharge them all we wanted, but they weren’t going get more than a 20% charge.
So if we have been overdoing, rushing from one high pressured project to another, there is a cumulative cost. The usual remedial effort doesn’t help. We are now working with a permanent deficit. Sleep helps. And last night I got 7 hours. I found myself dreaming about the deck.
I got up this morning and the 20% charge was enough to help me see how to complete the thing. I present in an hour. I will let you know later in the day how things went.