The da Vinci Pause

Leonardo’s Life Hack

Last month, Walter Isaacson released his big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I haven’t read it yet (though it’s inevitable I will). In the meantime, I listened to Brett McKay’s sharp podcast interview with Isaacson.

As the conversation winds down, McKay poses an intriguing question:

“[Leonardo] da Vinci lived 500 years ago, Twitter didn’t exit, Instagram didn’t exist, all these digital things that are distracting us, that make it hard to really observe, didn’t exist. So based on your research and writing on da Vinci: what can we learn from him about staying focused and observing intensely on things even in this crazy digital world that we live in?”

Isaacson, who spent years immersed in over 7000 pages of da Vinci’s brilliant, but also scattered and frenetic notebooks, dismissed the premise: “Yeah, he had distractions too.”

So how did da Vinci end up a creative genius still revered 500 years later? Here’s Isaacson’s explanation:

“What he was able to do is pause, and put things aside, and look at very ordinary things and marvel at them.”

In this observation about a past figure is a powerful suggestion for grappling with the endless information deluging our current moment. Technologies like the internet provide everyone the raw material to become a renaissance person, but to take advantage of this reality it helps to cultivate da Vinci’s ability to pause when something catches your attention, and to then give it the intense, deep concentration needed to transform a fleeting spark into something more substantial.

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As a self-proclaimed productivity nerd, I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to discussions of time management. But then my longtime friend Elizabeth Grace Saunders proved me wrong. Her new book, Divine Time Management, tackles personal productivity through a novel lens: Christianity. If you’re both Christian and overwhelmed by all you have to do, check out Elizabeth’s latest. 


Blog – Cal Newport

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