Damp Paper Towel as Productivity Tool

There was nothing more to be done. I carefully closed all open windows, quit all open apps, and selected “Shut Down” from the Apple menu.

This almost never happens. You’re nodding and thinking “Oh, because a computer running MacOS is so reliable that you almost never need to reboot.” If so, I can only congratulate you on your purchase of your first Mac. No, when I restart my Mac, it’s because I need to get something done, and dammit, my MacBook Pro thinks that I bought it for its amazing Spinning Beachball-Displaying prowess. Stabbing my thumb down on the power button instead of even attempting a polite shutdown buys me 25 minutes of additional productivity that I sometimes desperately need. Usually after I’ve gotten off the phone with an editor and promised them that yes, of course I can write something about a late-breaking news item and email it in before the top of the hour.

I perform a force-shutdown when my Mac is standing in the way between me and getting stuff down. I perform a manual shutdown when I have nothing to blame but myself. At the moment, I feel like like the floor of my shop is humming with projects. Many exciting pieces of machinery have been growing larger and better every day. Every workbench is occupied.

But! Very little is actually shipping out. This is not great.

When that happens, I shut everything down, prepare a wet cloth, and then give my MacBook a good physical cleaning. I stop when the screen is a spotless mirror, the aluminum is a smooth, continuous tone of grey, and I’ve teased all the visible crumbs and dust and arm hairs from the keyboard.

Then I push the Power button and get going again. Yes, the MacBook performs better after a restart. But the point of all this is just performing the symbolic ritual of a spiritual cleansing. I have scrubbed away all of the crumbs and failure. Every nonsense obstacle is in the trash bin with the damp paper towel. I now have a fresh space in which Wonderful Things can be built. Then I put my head down and I get back to work.

It’s a brain hack, I know. The joy of the whole “day to night to day again” pattern of life is that bit in the middle: the gap that occurs after whatever happened and before whatever happens next. The gap encourages you to remember that if you fell short of your goals on a Monday, well, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving everything hoped and then some on Tuesday.

So I stop. And I clean my MacBook. As I fold the paper towel up and clear away the line of crumbs that accumulated in the hinge under the screen, I feel as though the damnably-long period of hard work without real results is over. Now, I’m just a guy wiping down a keyboard. I’ll start all over again. Only this time, I won’t have dots of aerosol-propelled Diet Dr. Pepper staring back at me as I write. And! I don’t know who it was that left this preliminary draft on my hard drive, but I can see that there’s plenty of good stuff in there and it’s not so far away from the final draft that’s been eluding me for several days.

If nothing else? My MacBook is clean. That’s something, isn’t it?

Consider this an amplification — for my benefit as well as yours — of what I posted last year, about the inspirational possibilities of “The Hustler”.

3 thoughts on “Damp Paper Towel as Productivity Tool

  1. Jay

    Thanks for that Andy. Since I work from home I miss the ritual of getting home and changing out of my office attire into my “me” attire. That delineated a line in my day when work ended and the rest of the day began. Just the reverse of having that first morning coffee and putting on my monkey suit indicated the start of a new work day.

    I think I need to get back to that somehow.

  2. Ted Duffield

    Misread one line as “the floor of my shop is humming with projectiles …”. Forced shutdowns would be the least of your troubles.

  3. Erinc

    I used to do this all the time when I was writing my dissertation. You described the feeling perfectly Andy and I wholeheartedly agree.

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