Interstitial Capture

“I have a secret. Did you know what will happen if you eliminate the empty spaces from the universe, eliminate the empty spaces in all the atoms? The universe will become as big as my fist. Similarly, we have a lot of empty spaces in our lives. I call them interstices. Say you are coming over to my place. You are in an elevator and while you are coming up, I am waiting for you. This is an interstice, an empty space. I work in empty spaces. While waiting for your elevator to come up from the first to the third floor, I have already written an article!” —Umberto Eco

We often underestimate the amount of value sitting in small moments.

We insist on needing large, uninterrupted blocks of time to make meaningful progress and avoid the mental switching cost involved in changing tasks. I suspect it's no coincidence that often lament how little we got done and how few hours there are in a day.

A more helpful understanding is to appreciate that all large pieces of time are made up by the accumulation of tiny pieces of time, and that by neglecting these atomized, seemingly useless moments we not only sacrifice the realization of the larger ones but also become unreasonably dependent on them.

A more helpful approach is to learn to wield the power of small moments rather than dismissing them as simply transitions from one Important Time Block to the next.

  1. Notice 3, 5, 10, and 15-minute stretches of time, and carve them out on a day planner or calendar. See them as something to fill.
  2. Designate certain tasks as suitable for teckling during these small increments of time. Writing one sentence for an essay or book. Playing through scales on a piano. Listening to a portion of an audio book. Reading one page of a physical book. Doing one physical exercise. Doing one language exercise. Doing one coding exercise.
  3. Habituate the use of these increments by consistently using them. Assign each a task based on your priority long-term projects. Maybe 3-minute blocks are for x, 5-minute blocks for y, etc.
  4. Practice giving each your concentration. This requires some effort and does not come quickly. It is easy for a mind to wander, and distractions are common. But deliberate practice is the key to mastery in any field, and in this case we're engaged in the field of attention management.

It's easy, natural even, to underestimate how quickly these tiny interstitial moments accumulate and how much impact they can have.

What once were discarded time shards can form a crystalline latticework of progress when treated as building materials instead of scraps.