Some of the things that remain from my former day job are desk toys. I have some “thinking putty”. A foldable wooden figure. A battery vacuum for crumbs. Those sorts of things.

After a year and a half of work-from-home, I realize what desk toys are.

“Sit there until you have a good idea.”

During pandemic work-from-home, I could pace around. Take a walk. Make another cup of coffee. Read.

I could do anything to help me stop obsessing about a technical problem and let the inarticulate half of my brain get some space to emit ideas. These ideas can be scrutinized, and discarded, later. But first, it’s essential to come up with any ideas.

These don’t happen while staring at a blank page. There’s a lot of stress to deliver, unrelated to the thing that must be created.

Indeed, I think staring at a blank page is antithetical to creative thought. The irrelevant issues of deadlines and related consequences are weeds that thrive in the toxic environment of deadline-driven work.

A little stroll around — outdoors — not staring at a blank page — allows ideas to percolate. Some may be worthy of committing to paper. A large volume of mediocre ideas is the first step in finding something worthy of preserving.

Desk toys are the shackle of a petty tyrant. “If I let you wander around, you might wander away and not come back,” they worry.

I know a few of the tyrannical types of managers, and they are absolutely paralyzed by the way work from home robs them of certain types of power. They’re unable to disrupt work with irrelevant, distracting demands. If you’re not in an office, you can turn off the chat app, silence the email alarm, and they can only dish out grief after the fact for a lack of responsiveness. Which — when you’ve produced the creating thing they wanted — becomes a bit of a problem.

You can respond to the tyrant’s demands for interruptions. Or you can produce the products the tyrant really needs.

Giving them what they need tends to subvert their demands for attention. They can’t really complain very strenuously because you provided them what they need, not what they wanted.

I’m happy to be away from an environment where I was shackled to a desk, and distracted with cheap toys.

In some ways, I wish I’d left earlier. But. They paid me enough money that it was hard to say no to them, leaving me little room for complaint.