Separate Spaces vs Grandmaster.

(Originally posted on 1.26.2013 on

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about focus. I realized it’s something that I always heard people telling me to do, but not something I ever took time aside (in school or in life) to really learn how to do. In fact, for some time I even shunned the idea. I purposely joined as many clubs, bands, projects, etc. because I was interested in so many things. I equated busyness with success. I was skipping the “being effective” part. So I’ve been trying some things.

I quickly realized that one culprit of why I was having difficulty focusing was likely space. I’ve pretty much always had three lanes moving in my life. 1)Music, 2)Work, 3)Personal Life. When I was in school, work was replaced with school (barely). The second half of 2012 I was able for the first time to create a life/art/work balance as it relates to space that I hadn’t had up until that point. The company I started got its first NY office, I started renting a studio to go to when working on music, and suddenly my apartment became…just home. In cycling between the three locations, I built up a response where I would arrive to the studio, and feel, “Now I just work on music”. I’d get to the office and think, “I’m going to knock out my DecisionDesk work”. And when I arrive home I actually immediately relax a lot more than I used to. Home used to be where I would shuffle between chilling out with my girlfriend, work on that new song, and send a thousand emails. The separate spaces concept was really helping my focus on each track of my life.

The other side of the coin though is that there is a part of me that firmly believes that you can accomplish what you need to accomplish pretty much anywhere if you know how to focus. If you have the tools you need (for me, a laptop, some headphones, and ideally some sort of instrument to write on) it literally didn’t matter. I even got deeper into this headspace after reading a book by Josh Waitzkin (the Searching for Bobby Fischer kid), a chess Grandmaster where he talked about having trouble focusing on chess when playing in Washington Square Park in NYC. He would hear a song and be distracted, someone would be talking over him, etc. So he trained himself to be able to focus (and win) in practically any environment. He would purposely play with loud music on, have his little sister screaming behind him, etc. Eventually, it didn’t matter where he was, his focus was unwavering and you wouldn’t beat him even if you were jackhammering in his ear.

A goal of 2013 for me is to be able to operate well in both the “Separate Spaces” arrangement, as well as the “Grandmaster” arrangement. I could see wanting to continue with separate spaces as a trigger to know what I should be focusing on in each space, however I’d like to be able to be thrown for a loop, “today you have to finish your work with tons of people around you talking about different things” and still retain focus. Right now I do not have the Grandmaster method down. One way I think I can try to build that muscle is by roughly maintaining my daily habit (it’s 2pm, you should be focusing on X) even when my schedule has changed my normal location (a meeting took me to the other side of town, or I’m in a different city visiting friends).

To me, it seems that the people that accomplish the greatest things have an amazing mastery of focus, and it’s definitely the tool I need to sharpen the most.


The above photo is from my little studio in Williamsburg.

Marc Plotkin