How Six Hours Staring at a Blank Computer Screen was One of the Most Productive Days of My Life.

The Podcasting Store
3 min readJun 1


by Drew Holmes

I was staring at the blank computer screen, just as I had for the previous six hours. Seconds passed like months, and I was no closer to a solution than when I had started.

I was working at Cornet Music, a family-owned music store in Smithtown, NY. Bob, the owner, had tasked me with rewriting the store’s instrument rental contract.

“Make it read easier,” Bob said that morning as I clocked in. “Also, make it fit on one letter-sized piece of paper.”

That last part was the problem. Jam packed full of necessary customer information and specific language outlining the rights and responsibilities the store and the customer had to each other, the existing document was a legal sheet sized beast. One wrong or omitted word could change the entire agreement.

I tried a few layout ideas, but nothing ticked all the boxes. The header with the customer information was crucial and virtually untouchable, and the terms and conditions were equally important. With zero visible progress, I was no closer to fitting the proverbial ten pounds of manure into the provided five-pound bag than I was six hours ago.

I could feel Bob’s stare bearing down on me through his office window with the crystal clear implied question of “what the heck am I paying you to do?”

To be successful, you need to fail 16% of the time, a recent article by Adam Alter published on, reminded me of this document design project. In it, he talks about the importance of failure to the creative process and the quantification of the perfect ratio of failure to success by a team of psychologists and neuroscientists.

The researchers identified the two extremes — Complete success and utter failure. Total success eventually is boring and abject failure is demoralizing, so too much of either becomes counterproductive. Their conclusion was that challenging ourselves just to the limit of our capabilities (difficult enough to be interesting but not defeating) is crucial to increasing our abilities.

Per Alter’s article:

“According to the researchers, the optimal error rate is 15.87 percent. Obviously the true rate varies more than that disarmingly precise number suggests. On good days you might tolerate a higher error rate, and on days when you’re discouraged or tired, you might prefer to avoid error altogether. Some tasks probably demand higher failure rates than others, and perhaps you need to embrace more failure if you’re in a hurry to learn.”

He further explored the creative processes of Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Both were superlative geniuses who leaned into creative blocks rather than fight against them. Mozart would go for walks or carriage rides while Einstein would lay down on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Allowing their brains room to explore new ideas led to success.

Reading this article reminded me of that day spent staring at the blank computer screen. With less than two hours remaining in my shift, I had an epiphany — I had been treating the existing document as one single unit of information. What if I split it up? What if instead of one large column of mismanaged white space and convoluted headers I split it into multiple smaller columns?

I grabbed a blank piece of paper and sketched out the rough idea: vital customer information at the top and the small print divided into easy to identify sections with clear headers, split into columns. The mass of text was cut down to size and a functional, easier to read document emerged.

Before I clocked out for the night, I proudly presented Bob with his new rental contract. Years later when revising the rental contract at my store, I used the same column layout I had created back on Long Island. Between the two stores, tens of thousands of instruments have been rented using that document. Looking back on it, the day I spent staring at a blank computer screen was some of the most productive work time I have ever had.



The Podcasting Store

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