Balancing Serendipity & Intention During Quarantine

Chaos and order in isolation

I was at a Zoom dinner the other night and one of the questions presented to the group was "what have you learned from quarantine?"

A surprising number of people remarked on their newfound ability to be intentional. 

I've felt the same way. 

I live in New York, and with all its volatility and randomness, I'm rarely able to establish a steady routine. I'll stay out till 4 am on a Wednesday night and my sleep won't return to normal for many days. (Sometimes worth it.) It’s easy to get distracted by visiting friends, last-minute opportunities, or neighborhood run-ins.

Quarantine provides a vacuum in which we can be intentional with our routines and time allocation. There's very little volatility during a lockdown. 

I've been getting better sleep. I'm waking up every morning at 7 am like clockwork. I don't set an alarm anymore. I'm writing 1000 words a day, easily. I'm getting an immense amount of deep work done. I’ve learned quite clearly who the people are I intend to spend time with and the people I don't, independent of geography. 

There's lots of time and space to be intentional in isolation and there's a lot to learn from the experience.

And yet, I miss serendipity. Yesterday I woke up with my calendar packed. Back to back calls and todos. I knew exactly how my day would go. Besides some nuance in conversation, there would be no surprises. I wouldn't be scratching any lottery tickets today, I thought. 

I realize now that this is why I love New York City. I can walk outside and stumble upon anything. The potentials are limitless. I might meet someone new who shares an insight that changes my perspective forever. Maybe I'll discover a hole in the wall, it'll become my neighborhood haunt, and the place I take my wife on our first date. That sort of thing. 

Density is very bad for pandemics but very good for the upside of randomness.

Of course, I’ve had some serendipity in my roaming of the internet, but it's not the same thing. I did stumble across a good quote today. It prompted this post: 

"Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you're going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute it. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient... but it's also not random. It's guided - by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it's worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries - the 'non-linear' ones - are highly likely to require wandering." - Jeff Bezos 

There's a balance to serendipity and intention. Chaos and order. Ying and yang. Now's a good time to assess it. I was previously a bit over-indexed on chaos, I must admit. 

When we return I think I'll continue to be intentional with my mornings and create an environment for serendipity in the afternoons.

A few hours of focused work will drive steady progress towards the places I know I'm going, and I'll leave the rest up to ‘chance’, making room for new places I couldn't have ever imagined.

Much love,
Dan