Lost in Friction

Lost in Friction

I arrived in Colombia more than three weeks ago. Since then, The Friendly Anarchist has been quieter then usual. Good reasons for that abound: My feeder plane in Europe had to make an emergency landing in Paris, so I missed my flight to the Americas and arrived a day late. Then, I had to attend business on the delicate intersection of love, friendship and bureaucracy. I needed time to reestablish ties with this wonderful country and the many wonderful people I hadn’t seen for almost two years. I had to come to terms with and appreciate the changes that Cartagena has seen in recent days.

To make it short, what happened is that I got lost in friction.

In Productive Anywhere, I wrote:

No matter how long you have been on the road, traveling to new places always creates friction. […]

If you’re on the road, it will be a permanent company, and it’s helpful to be prepared for that: Luggage will get lost, climate will be tough, distractions will be high, and the business will always make most trouble when you’re in the most remote area. You will get weird illnesses. Immigration officers and embassies will deny you a visa. Wi-fi won’t work when you need it, or your computer will break down when the next service operator is a thousand miles away. Unexpected travels home will steal from your precious travel time, and the costs will eat a hole into your carefully balanced budget.

And even if all the technicalities work out fine, there will still be so many things to slow you down: The new environment you suddenly find yourself in, the different vibe, the many distractions and temptations, things to see and things to explore: Food to eat, people to meet, places to see, rum brands to savor. All of these often beautiful things will bring more friction to your workday.

Fighting Friction…

But how can we reduce friction? How can we fight it?

My personal rescue came in the form of Michael Nobbs’ suggestion to declare February a “month of tiny steps“. The basic idea is to identify a project you’d like to work on and then set aside twenty minutes a day to work on it. I joined into Michael’s experiment and have started to work more focused on my next book – even if it sometimes was for just twenty minutes a day.

As so often, though, twenty minutes of focused work can expand easily into longer work sessions. As you might have experienced yourself, sometimes it’s simply one first step that’s necessary in order to to get back on track.

What’s more, by merely looking at the tasks and challenges at hand, I’m giving my idle brain some delicious food for thought. Solutions, then, will emerge almost effortlessly when I’d least expect them – and by entering work mode every day for at least a short amount of time, I make sure I keep track of them.

…And Winning the Fight

There’s another notion to this, though: To a certain degree, friction will always be part of any real travel experience – and of life, even.

I could definitely have published more posts here over the last few weeks, but that would have come at a cost: I wouldn’t have made a surprise trip to Medellín, I wouldn’t have walked as much around Cartagena, I wouldn’t have had some of the best coffee in the world on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have read Murakami, I wouldn’t have joined my fellow hotel lodgers in attending seminars, cinema and backyard parties, I wouldn’t have visited Santa Fé de Antioquia, I wouldn’t have spent as much time with my friends and loved ones.1

To quote again from Productive Anywhere:

The lesson is a simple one: Unexpected […] things will always happen as you hit the road. But it’s your decision what to make of them: You can either bother or relax. The latter is generally the better option.

In the end, we can relentlessly optimize and streamline our lives, we can use lots of grease to reduce friction to an absolute minimum. We can neglect our voyage, our peers, our need to rest and reflect, our drive to explore – and merely focus on having an efficient workday. The cost of this is sterility, solitude and a superficial travel experience. I’ll take spark emitting friction over that anytime.

  1. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have had enough headspace to manage the “business on the delicate intersection of love, friendship and bureaucracy” I mentioned above. But that’s a much longer story that I might share with you some other day. []

Comments 6

  1. Clara February 11, 2013

    lovely post. here is to friction that makes beautiful sparks fly :)!

  2. Milo February 12, 2013

    Great post and stunning photo Fabian. Even with the days completely free and working from home, I still seem to find ways to get distracted – and 20 minutes a day is harder than it seems when it’s on a big juicy creative project like a book. So I think you’ve done pretty well considering your adventures and other business!

  3. Paul Forrester February 13, 2013

    Splendid post! It’s good to recognise that things we might think are ‘getting in the way’ are part of what keeps life interesting. I’m sure I’m not the only one who forgets that and allows myself to get frustrated in the quest for productivity and a ‘perfect’ time for writing.

    • Fabian February 13, 2013

      Oh, I also know that frustration, Paul. But on the other hand, it’s precisely the things that distract me that will then, in turn, fuel my writing later on. This is probably another reason why I learned to embrace friction. (At least to a certain degree!)

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