Thursday, 27 August 2015

The day the laptop died - how to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life

On Thursday 23rd July 2015, I was asked to get an Ignite Talk at a PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) event. The topic was 'digital creativity'. We could talk about any aspect of that subject, except we weren't allowed to talk about work. This left me slightly flummoxed, because any time I have ever been asked to give a presentation before , it’s been about something I’m working on, on a subject that I’m an ‘expert’ (?!) in. Luckily for me, just when I’m wondering what to talk about, and watching old Ignite Talks to try to understand the format, my laptop dies. This is lucky because my laptop dying becomes the topic of my talk. Here follows my presentation:

What I’m about to tell you will give you the power to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life. Disclaimer, this is not guaranteed! First a couple of questions:
  1. How many people here sit in front of a computer screen for much of the day?
  2. How many people here pride themselves on their ability to multi-task?
I’m one of those people who gets into a lift and pushes the close doors button, repeatedly, even if the doors are closing. Actually, that’s an example of impatience, not multi-tasking…  Hmm… Okay, so I’m an impatient multi-tasker.
And this love of multi-tasking means that I always have a LOT going on on my laptop... I used to be a journalist; I used to have access to the wires and was constantly receiving news snaps from PA and AP and AFP.

My screen nowadays buzzes with email alerts, and Twitter alerts, and instant messenger, and GChat. Always open, always on. So, there I am, with my 30 different tabs open, multi-tasking like a good ‘ne when suddenly my computer screen flickers and what looks like the code from the matrix starts scrolling up the screen. So, I do what I always do when something goes wrong, I pick up the phone and dial our IT support team in Hyderabad in India. Except they can’t help me, because the way they work is to logon to your computer remotely to see what the problem is. And my computer by this stage has turned itself off and won’t turn back on again.

Well, says the nice lady woman on the phone in India, I’ll ask local IT to come take a look. Local IT? Local IT? Nearly three years of working for this company and now I find out we have an IT person in the building?!

So, I wait patiently (not a strong point as we’ve already established) and an IT chap turns up at my desk… diagnoses my laptop as ‘broken’ and takes it away. He says I’m to come see him in 20 minutes to see what’s what. He takes my computer away… What on earth am I supposed to do now? I do the only thing that a British person can do in this situation. I go make myself a cup of tea. And after about 10 minutes, did I mention my lack of patience? I go upstairs. It’s not good. My hard drive has failed and I can’t get a replacement laptop until Monday.

So, I am expected to work without a laptop? How? The IT chap says I shouldn’t worry because it’s the last Friday of the month so everyone will be finishing at 5pm for the company drinks. Company drinks? We have an IT team? And now it turns out we have company drinks? Now to be fair to me, I’m not a complete anti-social idiot, these company drinks are organised by a different department, so it’s not like I officially should have been invited. But now, I am being invited, by the chap in IT. And I’m agreeing to go along, because quite frankly I don’t have a laptop, so I don’t have any work to do.

Back at my desk, reeling from the fact that we have an IT team in the building and last Friday of the month company drinks. I suddenly remember I’m supposed to be on a conference call. I jump on the call, and I’m listening and I’m talking, and I’ve got some ideas to share, and then I have some more ideas to share, and I’m listening some more, and it’s brilliant. It’s the best call I’ve been on in years, maybe even ever. I’m on fire, everyone on the call is on fire, and it’s fantastic.

We solve problems; we generate actions, lots of actions. I get off the call and I’m totally pumped, I’m full of energy and I don’t need my usual three O’clock diet coke. And I’m confused… why was that such a good call? I hadn’t been looking forward to that call. We had some tough decisions to make, some awkward conversations to have, and it went really, really well. Suddenly it occurred to me… The difference between that call and all the other calls I ever have? No laptop!

Instead of putting on my headset, putting the phone on mute, and allowing the incoming emails, instant messages and Tweets to distract me. And I hadn’t realised quite how much they were distracting me. I just participated in the call. I focused totally on the call, nothing else.

Call over, I look at my to-do list… and realise I can’t do a single thing on it without my laptop. So, I go get myself some paper and some pens from the stationary cupboard, and I start scribbling: ideas from the call; other ideas not related to the call; things we’d discussed at a strategy meeting months before. Before I know it, it 5 O’clock, time for drinks. And the drinks were great? I meet a bunch of new people, we figure out some cool ways we can work together in the future.

When I arrive at my desk on Monday morning and a replacement laptop is waiting for me at my desk, I am almost a bit disappointed. Of course, after 5 minutes I had it booted up and 100 different tabs whizzing and whirring. And then I suddenly think, hold on, last Friday I had the most creative and productive afternoon of life.

So, will you humour me, and try something with me on Friday afternoon? At about two thirty, turn off your laptop. You don’t have to break your laptop, although you can if you really want to, instead, just turn it off. Make some phone calls, get some paper and some pens and start thinking about the big picture stuff. Do not do anything on your very tactical to-do list. Go find out if you’ve got an IT team? Are there any drinks? If not, organise some. Stop multi-tasking and rushing and just allow yourself time to think and focus. You might be surprised by what you can achieve without your laptop.


  1. Excellent. That's the stuff. The 'death' of your laptop was just a chapter, and that you have either moved on from it or built upon the liberties that its loss has opened up. You got to do a lot of things, with a new laptop at the end of it. It's a win-win!

    Donald Steadman @ Office PCS

  2. Sometimes, you just need a clean break. These devices can occupy our lives so much that we can't seem to imagine a life without them, much less see a world outside of them. So it would be nice if we step out of that for a while. That said, it's good that you have a constructive view of what has happened to your old laptop. And it’s good that you managed to get a new one soon after. Good day!

    Brian Hopkins @ Microtips USA