The Art of Giving Yourself Pause for Thought
Table of Contents
- 1. Reframing our concept of time
- 2. Sympathetic and parasympathetic
- 3. Finding your style
- 4. Good and bad interruptions
- 5. Pauses give you the rhythm
- 6. Continuous evaluation
- 7. Putting all together
- 8. Meetings can be fun
- 9. A drop in the bucket
1. Reframing our concept of time
I currently work in two countries, the Netherlands and Italy, and I live in three cities: Amsterdam, Milano (with my family), and Torino. My family is made by four members: my daughter, my son, my wife and me, everybody with their own personalities and needs.
I never had a full time job in my life, except of the period when I was a PhD candidate. Nowadays I work part-time in three Universities. But until recent times I also worked as a consultant in the ICT sector, mainly mentoring and coaching about Agile methodologies and practices. I start to “be agile” almost ten years ago.
If I were not able to manage my time, I could not reach my current status. Some people think that I work a lot, but in truth I am not a workaholic. I have time to enjoy my family, meet friend and sometimes even doing nothing special. Having done all my working duties prevously.
How I reached this dynamic, ever-changing equilibrium? Is there any magic formula? Sorry, but if it does exist, I do not know how it actually works. If you look for a set of off-the-shelf rules so to change abruptly your (working) life in 21 days or so, stop reading now. Try something else. The Art of Giving Yourself Pause For Thought (in short: ArtP4T) is not what you are looking for.
The ArtP4T is not Yet Another Time Management Miracle. This e-book is different, as it casts new light on your working time from the outside. Here, I share my experience that some friends, colleagues and clients – never had really proper customers in my life – think is valuable. I will not put trademarks in the ArtP4T nor I will release certificates of mastery or similar things. I retain the copyright, of course, but only some rights are reserved, in the spirit of the Open Access Initiative. In practice, this means that you are free to experiment, cut, mix, insert, other things in the ArtP4T for your purposes. The ArtP4T can work for you totally, only in part, or not at all. In the last case, please accept my sincere apologies. On the other hand, if you want to share success stories of using the advices written in this e-book, I will be glad to put them in the companion web site of this e-book as success stories, with a link to your personal web site. If you want this to happen, just contact me via email, Twitter or Facebook, as you prefer. You can use the hashtag #ArtP4T.
Recently, a mother told me that his son is always practicing the art of pause as he is laying on his bed all the afternoon after school, doing nothing. Well, this is not I mean with ‘pause’ in the ArtP4T. In order to have pauses, you should do something in-between! most people I met have the opposite problem: they work a lot, and they have the feeling that they can be more productive working the same amount of time. They are the ideal readers and practitioners of the ArtP4T. But lazy people – like that teen-ager – can also try to use these techniques: the only change is that they should start from Chapter 5, and practicing those techniques instead of laying on their beds forsome days or weeks. When they start to reconnect with their own body, then they will start to have again the energy to do things and therefore they will enjoy their pauses.
All other readers should read the e-book normally, that is from this Chapter until the end.
Time, from enemy to ally
We feel the pressure of time because our conception of time is linear, with a known fixed point for the start (our birth) and an unknown point for the end (our death). First, we should acknowledge the fact that this vision of time is culturally dependent: other culture saw time as a circle, for example. But, even still staying in this ‘segmental’ view of time we share in the Western world, there is an infinite number of points in a line segment. If we extend the two fixed points indefinitely, we obtain a line, and the infinite number of points in it is the same.
Infinity is not scarcity, it is abundance. Time does not press us, it accompanies us through all our life. It is our most precious ally, and we should respect it. When we work, our time is calculated on a monetary basis: in other words, somebody is paying our time to do things. Usually they want us to take track of our work, either in terms of hours or in terms of calendar deadlines for delivering results, or both. According to the OECD Better Life Index 2014, people spend one-tenth to one-fifth of time on unpaid work. Moreover, there is an inequality between men and women, the latter spending 2.3 hours per day on average on a global basis. A passage is worth a quotation, in particular:
A full-time worker in the OECD works 1 765 hours a year and devotes 62% of the day on average, or close to 15 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.).
The best country in this respect is Denmark, where these non-working hours are 16. To keep it simple, let us say that 8 hours are for sleeping, while the other 8 hours are free time. Therefore, 8 hours per day only should be devoted for work. Even if there is no universal agreement on its definition, the FTE (Full-Time Equivalence) measures the full-time of a worker on a yearly basis on a formula like the following one:
8 hours/day * 5 days/week * 40 weeks/year = 1 660 hours/year
This is the optimal situation we all should reach, and of course we are talking of 0 hours of unpaid work. Just to be clear about this point, a caveat is needed. “Some people claim that my working environment is like a family, or that my job is a mission, and so on, in order not to pay me properly – or not at all.” Sentences like this reached my ears a lot of times, and I am still wondering how can people believe in it. Are you a monk or a pastor? If so, it has perfectly sense: you do not need to earn a living, because you offered your life for a higher Cause. I mean, you cannot be fired, unless you do really terrible things. I deeply respect persons who made such choices. On the other hand, I presume that readers do not belong to these very special classes of workers. If I am right, you should always be paid for your work, in a way or the other.
In the sequel, I will use the expression working time in order to indicate the 8 hours per day you should keep an account of. The complementary expression will be free time, where you will indicate time for personal care and leisure (according to the quotation above) when you are still awake. This indicates both the 8 hours per day awake when you are not at work and the time when you are not supposed to work – 12 weeks, or 3 months, per year. Finally, sleeping time indicates the 8 hours you spend sleeping during the night.
In sum, the working time is one third of your working days, which are only a part of all the days in a single year. Therefore, more than 2/3 of your life is devoted to something different from your work. This fact is valid even for the most loyal Stakhanovite in the world.
Unlike any time management methodology I have encountered in my life, the ArtP4T takes into account all your time to achieve better results, including your sleeping time. I will not tell you how you should live your own life, far from it. I share the techniques I use profitably for myself for years with you. Nothing less, nothing more.
I could not reach the synthesis of the ArtP4T without the contact I had with many philosophies, methodologies, and practices – along with their practitioners – I met during these last ten years of my life. In particular, my gratitude goes to all people involved in the wonderful season of the European Summer School in Agile Programming (ESSAP) I launched with Matteo Vaccari in our University of Insubria Varese-Como years, on behalf of the Head of the Department DICOM, full prof. Gaetano A. Lanzarone, who passed away some years ago.
Since 2005, I am practitioner of various Agile methodologies and practices – see the Agile Manifesto for details. With Matteo Vaccari, I explored academically the use of the Pomodoro Technique in teams for some years. Although the rest of this Chapter founds it origin on that experience, I do not considered myself anymore a Pomodoro practitioner. I made considerable changes in my time management style compared to the orthodox ‘Pomodorist’. Readers who already know the Pomodoro will spot them easily, while the others simply do not care – actually, it is easier not to know other techniques in order to start practicing with the ArtP4T. Chapter 8 is a personal elaboration of the Agile Retrospective book published by The Pragmatic Programmers, with various apport of cognitive mapping techniques, that I studied in my minor PhD dissertation.
From the pedagogical point of view, my first source of inspiration is Dr. Maria Montessori and the method she started – see the Association Montessori Internationale.
For a full experience of the parasympathetic system (see Chapter 2) I am in debt with the Japanese Seitai philosophy and the practice of Katsugen Undo.
The source of inspiration of some exercises described in Chapter 5 is the Qi Gong of Dr. Ma Li Tang, that I learned from Dominique Ferraro and Ma Xu Zhou. They co-authored a book written in French published by Guy Tredaniel Editeur, which I recommend to the interested people.
At last but not at least, this e-book came out of my mind during an intense seminar of Ba Gua Zang (Quan) Kung Fu lead by Zhang Dugan in the Agriturismo Ciaolatte (Noceto, Parma) I attended in November 2014 – the photo in the cover was shot in Noceto. This style of kung fu is the highest oriental art I ever met in my life, and it deeply influenced my equilibrium positively.
2. Sympathetic and parasympathetic
From Seitai, I learned that life consists in holding of and looseness. When our organism is flexible, we can overcome great difficulties with ease, and front the most challenging circumstances. On the contrary, when we lose our flexibility, the smallest difficulty can get us into trouble. The ArtP4T will gove you useful tools to use your time at your best without losing your flexibility.
Our nervous system is what links our brain to the rest of our body. The somatic nervous system answers to the external stimuli we receive while the autonomic nervous system regulates the internal body functions. This can be divided in two subsystems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system (all this is standard knowledge in anatomy since many decades).
While both subsystems control the same body functions, they have opposite effects on them: the sympathetic system prepares the body for intense and rapid physical activity (fight-or-flight); on the contrary, the parasympathetic system relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions (rest-and-digest).
The sympathetic system is in function when we are conscious. In their recent book Consciousness, Gerard Edelman(*) and Guido Tonoli, two of the most influent neuroscientists of our time, say:
Consciousness abhores holes or discontinuities… The drive to integration is so strong that… apparently, the feeling of an absence is far less tolerable than the absence of a feeling… [while] the ability to differentiate among a large repertoire of possibilities constitutes information, in the precise sense of ‘reduction of uncertainty.’
The sympathetic system can distinguish in milliseconds what to do (differentiation) so to make sense of our world perception (integration) and to avoid the horror vacui. It is focused on goals, gains and results. As we will see in details in the next Chapter, a clear language in describing your tasks is fundamental to accomplish the double-sided need to differentiate and integrate.
The sympathetic system is typically in function when we work but also during R.E.M. sleep. It is powerful, but it drains energy, and therefore we need to rest, stay calm and relaxed, to recover energy.
It is here that the parasympathetic system becomes important. When we sleep deeply, we recover energy naturally. Unfortunately, many people I know sleep badly because they get too stressed during their working times, quite often too long. Hence, the sympathetic system cannot make a step backwards, letting the parasympathetic system do what the body need: relax and recover flexibility.
You know exactly how it goes. Just five minutes more of work. You do not feel pain, or tiredness. You fell invincible. Then you suddenly stop. More than one hour of extra work passed. Your back hurts, now. You feel that your eyes are heavy for so many hours in front of a screen. Your body is rigid like a robot. The morning after you realize that the amount of work done in almost two hours in the evening yesterday you could have done in twenty minutes if you were fresh.
This is exactly what any of us should avoid. We think we are fast, but in truth over working is getting us slower and slower. And the ArtP4T can help you in this respect. Let us see how.
In the sci-fi movie Men in Black III, the young Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) tells Agent J (Will Smith) that they need a cake. Agent J protests, as there is almost no time left to save Earth from an alien invasion. Apparently, that cake in the bar is the most silly move you can have in such a situation. The truth is that the two agents are stuck. They do not know what to do exactly in order to find the alien responsible of the invasion. What they need is to stop and breath calmly, giving themselves a pause for thinking. And suddenly the right thing to do comes into mind, clear as daylight, no doubt.
This kind of Aha-Erlebnis – non-trivial, lateral problem solving – can emerge to consciousness only if we let our parasympathetic system some space for work. Of course, we are still doing things, so the sympathetic system is at work. But out of the emergency condition, your breath rhythm is slower, your heart beat too, and therefore your mind is fresher and you see and hear things that you could not notice in the emergency phase. Let me be very clear in this point. Emergency is a fundamental resource we have to front dangerous situations. I use it too, sometimes. But I do not abuse, because is energy-consuming: when it ends, you need to rest longer than usual. I mean, it is not something that let you spare time. People who can work only under the pressure of emergency should reflect if they are happy about their working style or not. I think they are not. If I am right, please go ahead and read the next Chapter.
(*) Unfortunately Edelman (1929-2014) passed away recently.
3. Finding your style
The ArtP4T will give you a user-friendly tool to help you in realizing what you are really doing during your working time, that is called the Everyday Sheet. But before to delve into this topic, we need to revise our beliefs towards time. That’s why I collected the most frequent assertions related to working time problems and have created a role play game you can play with your teammates.
The Time-Work-People Game
The Everyday Sheet
Some people are surprised that I suggest to do one thing after another, and they are proud to be able of their own performances in multitasking. Well, I am afraid to tell them that multitasking is an illusion. According to recent studies in cognitive sciences, what such are doing is a constant task switching, which is enormously energy consuming. According to 30 years of scientific research by Sandra Bond Chapman, director of the Center for Brain Health (U of Dallas) they should immediately switch to single-tasking. In an influential newspaper article published in Next Avenue, she explains how it works:
For example, when you are driving while talking on the phone, your brain can either use its resources to drive or to talk on the phone, but never both. Scans show that when you talk on the phone, there is limited activation of your visual brain – suggesting you are driving without really watching. This explains how we can sometimes end up places without knowing exactly how we got there. Frequently switching between tasks overloads the brain and makes you less efficient. It’s a formula for failure in which your thoughts remain on the surface level and errors occur more frequently.
Task switching is our enemy, because it is energy waste and source of frustration. The Everyday Sheet is build upon the single-tasking principle: do one thing after another. In order to do so, you should describe tasks in a strict, operational way. In other words, a clear fixed endpoint should be stated in advance. A crystal clear description of the task in one phrase is essential. For example, a student will write ‘study chap 4’ or ‘write intro essay max 2 000 words’. It is of the maximum importance that when the time slot will be over, a question will be raised: “did I finished my task or not?” The answer should be Boolean: yes or no. There is no 99% here: either it is finished or not. No third way. If the tasks written before were ‘study story’ or ‘start writing essay’ a clear answer is simply not possible. Of course you have studied your story book, but how much did you planned to study during a time slot? Of course you started writing your essay, but how can you evaluate?
Let us have a closer look to the Everyday Sheet. It is a A4 sheet of paper, 2 pages long: the first page is for the morning, the second one for the afternoon. In the first column, there is the indication for working time, divided into slots (Arabic numbers), and pauses (Roman numbers). There are 8 time slots for work in the morning, and 7 time slots for the afternoon, plus a special slot, the 16th, called “spective”. We will deal with this special slot afterwards. Each time slot is approximately 20 minutes long. Why exactly 20 minutes and not 25, as in other approaches?
First, my decennial experience tells that 25+25 is more than 50 minutes, usually 53-58 minutes of work. In order to keep tracking of our working time, we want to have 2 slots per hour, no more. So, what happens usually? People cut off pauses! And this is literally a disaster: all the purposes of the technique are vanished. On the other hand, if you keep it 20 min long, you can go beyond 1-3 min and nothing serious happens.
Second, studies on effective lecturers have shown that students’ attention is at its peak in the first 5 min, while in the next 15 min it goes down until a reasonable level; after 20 min, attention goes drastically down if nothing happens — a change of the general setting, a question and answer moment, or others.
And exactly a change is what you need, or, better said, a pause. In this way, the next slot you will be fresher and your attention curve will be at the higher parts most time. In other words, you will be more efficient and more relaxed at the same time.
A common question now is: “my duties are far longer than 20 min; how can I divide my tasks in such small slots?” This is a good questions. Most jobs are built around three types of time: long, medium and short. In the long run, there are projects with their deadlines for deliverables, whatever this word can mean (a software, a paper, an exam…). In the medium run, we have milestones (the next release, the manuscript, or similar). In order to achieve a milestone, we have to describe it in terms of tasks. We can have smaller cycles, with monthly, weekly or daily milestones. There are a lot of methodologies in the agile world in order to put smaller cycles into larger ones. What I propose to you is to start from the bottom: what will you do in your next morning and afternoon? In my experience, it is better to start the change from the shortest cycle, that is 2 slots plus pauses, that is the next hour. Then, with the help of the spective slots, you can start plan your working time better.
4. Good and bad interruptions
5. Pauses give you the rhythm
Pauses are more than breaks. There is nothing ‘broken’ in pauses: after you have just finished a task, and before to start the next one, you take a bit of time to reconnect yourself with your body. In doing so, you let your parasympathetic system the occasion to work for you. And, even more importantly, the pauses give you the rhythm of your working day, like in music. Can you listen to music stripping away all the pauses? Can you read a text without spaces or punctuation? Canyoureadatextwithoutspacesor punctuation… of course not! This is the sense of pauses: they give you the rhythm. It is an art, so it needs practice. Be patient with yourself: allow yourself not to be always successful when you start. And while not into work, allow yourself new possibilities for serendipity, that is finding new ideas that you really needed but you did know neither how to have them nor that they were out there, waiting for you.
The techniques that will be presented in the following sections are the results of my experience in the oriental arts. I have distilled them form my mentorships and workshops into this e-book. It is important to note that they were thought to be easily learned by anybody without any previous knowledge, experience or interest in oriental arts. There is nothing mystical behind them. And you can substitute them with other techniques, if you know any of such disciplines. The main aim is to unwire your mind at least for 2-3 minutes from the sequence of the tasks planned in your slot sheet. As you already know, the pause should last 5 minutes if you follow the normal rhythm of work; therefore, your technique will last 2-3 minutes at its most, because you should allow yourself the time to prepare and enter in it (1 minute) and the time to exit and go again to your usual place of work, let’s say your desk. In fact, in general it is better to change physically place when you experience your pause.
The fundamental techniques are solos. However, during the years I realized that one of the most urgent need for many people is to work better with their teammates, so I recently introduced a couple of techniques for pairs and groups. This is the first time I present them in a written form.
Last remark: I never do every technique every day, and so I do not expect others to do. Take them easy! If your pause is a cup of coffee or a sigarette, that will be your pause. Only avoid to talk about work with your colleagues in the meantime: if you do so, it is not a pause anymore.
I. Slowly. In-Hale.
This is the matrix of all other techniques: in a sense, it is always present when you practice the it than to others.
You sit comfortably, with your back free – it should not touch anything. Put a hand on your chest, next to your heart, but never right over it. In other words, the top of your fingers will be towards one of your shoulder (it is far easier to do than to explain, believe me).
The other hand should lay gently on your belly. Now feel that you are alive because you are breathing. Breath through your nose only. Do not try to change anything else of your breath: simply pay attention. Feel your breath. Your body will do the rest. Many people suddenly enter a state of tranquillity.
In your mind, start repeating the following sentence: “I. Slowly. In-Hale.” Do. It. Slowly. This is the most important thing to remember for every technique for pauses. If you do not change your physical rhythm, you do not enter really in a different mood apt for pauses.
Humid Eyes, full of light
Many people I know work in front of a monitor for many hours during the days: software developers, scholars, students, and so on. I am not exception. Our eyes are heavily stressed if we do not address them specifically during breaks, and this technique is to be done every time we feel that our eyes need to rest a bit. You should sit comfortably as in ‘I. Slowly. In-Hale.’ This time you put your palms gently just upon your eyes. Not on your eyes: hands should let some space, no pressure on them. Eyes should be able to blink normally, without touching your hands. Put your elbows on the desk, in order not to contract your shoulders. Now close gently your eyes. In your mind, start repeating the following sentence: “humid eyes, full of light.” Visualize a warm light coming into your eye bulbs, and feel their humidity. Generally, eyes become more humid, sometimes the eyes start a secretion of tears, without any special emotional connection. If this is the case, your eyes are already under overwork: do it more than usual. To finish the exercise, take the hands off one after the other (slooowly!) and open your eyes. Is your sight a bit better? Try to focus an object, before to take your glasses again — if needed. Sometimes people declare that they see better, sometimes not. In any case, it is worth a try.
Listen to your bones
The other sense many people use a lot during work is hearing. Many people should talk or listen to people for hours, on the phone, in videoconferencing, or in face-to-face meetings or conversations. They should be well aware of what others say, and at the same time they should carefully choose words when they talk. This exercise is dedicated to them. Again, you should sit comfortably as in ‘I. Slowly. In-Hale.’ You put your hands on your outer ears, covering them (you can also close your eyes, if you are in a comfortable situation, but it is not mandatory). Now, focus your mind on the sound produced by your body. You can hear the sea (it is your heartbeat) in many times, and certainly you hear your own breath. If you need to repeat a sentence in order not to think to anything, my suggestion is to tell yourself: “I. Listen. To. My. Bones.” After some years of feedback, I realized that many people get distracted by any sentence repeated in their mind when they are listening to the sounds produced by their own body, so you are free to repeat the sentence or not. As you prefer.
Take a walk to the silent side
While the previous techniques were in soloing, this one is a technique for groups. Suppose that your team has a longer pause (10 min) all together and the ritual is to go to the café on the opposite corner of the street to have a coffee or tea together. You decide all together to Take a walk to the silent side. Choose a ‘gate’ to get in and a ‘gate’ to get out: the main door of your office can be the first one, while the second one will be the entering door of the café. Between the two doors you simply remain silent. You are not allowed to pronounce a single sound with your mouth — no words, no whistling, nothing at all. In my experience, some people feel uncomfortable in behaving in such way. And if someone say hello? Well, you can smile, have eye contact, wave with your hand and even move your mouth as if to say “hello”, but without any sound. Teammates will have the experience that they can communicate in silence among them, without words, only with gestures. And if there are tension in the group, they will get lower a bit. You will realize that in the café people start to talk again in a different way: the decibels will be lower, and the rhythm of chatting will be slower too, in most cases.
This is the most difficult exercise, according to the feedback of many participants of my workshops. (…)
A last note
You can always invent other techniques in your teams, for yourself or for everybody. This is really helpful, it strengthen the links among the team members. If you want to share them with others, I will put them in the official web site of the ArtP4T.
6. Continuous evaluation
Follow the flux. And improve. Your everyday slot sheet is your ally. You do not need to have records, statistics, and so on.
This is not a technique for pauses in-between slots as the ones illustrated in the previous Chapter. In order to set up your rhythm, there is another way to recover energy which is complementary to all said before. Its name is Go offline, and its meaning is quite straightforward. I can be practiced during weekends, or any day off work, for at least one slot (20 min), two (40 min) or more: one full hour (60 min) is even better. The name of the technique is Going Offline, and you know exactly what I mean.
I mean really offline: no smartphones, no laptops, no tablets, no radio, no television. Suspension of any â€˜lineâ€™ that connects us to other human beings not physically present where we physically are in that moment, not just the internet.
The key to be successful in practicing this technique is preparation. You should carefully prepare your moment off, being 20 minutes or 1 hour or a whole day (24h) for the bravest among you.
First, emails: set up a vacancy message for all the email accounts you have, if you feel the urge to do so. Post a message on you social networks, if you use them on a daily basis. Shut down telephones and all mobile devices. This kind of actions.
But, even more important, do not forget to ask for help to people around you during that period. Suppose, for example, that you decide to go offline a whole day in a house on the lake, to get more contact with nature. Then, because your phone is shut down, your colleague calls your wife and she interrupts you, not knowing about your Going offline practice in advance.
Once upon a time in a course a participant asked me: “What to do when you are in this moment?” “Nothing” could be a good answer. I suggest you not to read books or other documents about your activities or similar. Stay still. Listen to music. Go fishing. Have a walk. If you are martial art practitioner like me, you will naturally feel the desire to delve into your art. Everything you want to do is good, if it does not harm the purpose of the technique: let the parasympathetic system work.
7. Putting all together
Your Golden Book of Dreams
Significa and the Dutch Group.
8. Meetings can be fun
Most jobs nowadays pretend that people work together, at least during part of their working time.
9. A drop in the bucket
I do not pretend that this e-book will change your life forever. What I can say, is that people applying some of these advices during my last 10 years of consultancy started to change their attitudes towards work. We live in a strange era, compared to the overall history of humanity. Society asks us to be productive and to consume at our maximum speed. Hollywood proposes new and old heroes with superhuman power, strength and resistance. Why these models have so much appeal?
Because all these messages confirm the mainstream life model: if you want to accomplish results at work, you should be under stress. This is the Big Lie of modern times – roughly, from the Industrial Revolution. Good work? Be stressed. No! The opposite is true. Every person we consider exceptional – take Albert Einstein, always quoted by time management experts – tells the same story: the most relevant results were obtained by chance, through an error, thanks to serendipity, even without working on them.
In the terms of the ArtP4T, they let the parasympathetic system be present every moment of their life. The point is not looking for the solution of the problem. The point is to let the problem speak by itself, and be ready to listen. I am sure that everybody at least once in their life has the occasion to be in front of something important and wonderful during their journeys into work. But very few are ready to recognize the occasion when it happens.
I know the question in your mind right now: yes, it happened to me too, some years ago. I have been obsessed for the deep structure underlying natural language grammars since my primary school years. Why in maths a solution is right or wrong while in grammar the final judge is the teacher? I think I became a linguist because I was seeking the answer with the same passion of the quest of the Holy Grail. I studied a lot of existing natural grammar formalisms, but none of them completely satisfied me. I took ideas from here and there, but… I almost lost hope, and suddenly I stopped to study any sort of linguistics. I delved into Artificial Intelligence, theory of systemics, cybernetics, artificial languages (in many senses) cognitive sciences and other interesting things sonehow related to Computer Science. Then, suddenly, a day I understood that all these disciplines were correlated with my original quest. I had to decide what topic should my PhD dissertation about and everything seems clear to me. When I was writing my dissertation I realised that the path I was going through was not the best: I had a partial result, very good indeed, but partial. I almost fell desperate but luckily my advisor – one of my best friends now – helped me achieving the result: the PhD itself. Other two years passed, and me and my former advisor decided to reprise those ideas and questions still left open. Eventually we produced a co-authored monography about the topic. That book was not the end of the story. It was the beginning of a journey of discoveries, and we are still working out them nowadays.
This is my story in short, but it is not special. The point is that you should be brave in letting things go this way. It is no shortcut. You should work hard as usual, but before this you should believe in it without any support and even hostility from the environment. Sometimes life does not allow us to follow this line as the main stream of work, but in any case let it breath and you will feel fresh air every day.