500 Words — Day Forty-Nine: Flow
The mythical flow state. Once someone enters the flow state, they are granted enhanced focus and the ability to work for hours without distractions. When I can program in the flow state, it is quite something magical. I haven’t experienced this state in quite sometime. But being able to just emit that productivity and get stuff done is a great feeling. When people talk about having passion for the job, it is that state of flow that comes to mind.
That being said, there is a intermediate state between flow and distraction where work does get done. Unfortunately, the pull within this state is not strong enough that given small distractions, one can be easily removed from this state of concentration. Like right now, I’m in a state of concentration. I’m free of distractions for the most part. I’m writing words on this digital piece of paper and presenting my thoughts. But it isn’t hard to lose focus. I just did trying to finish a sentence in this paragraph and started to struggle to finish the sentence. I lost the momentum of the paragraph there. Perhaps you can tell, perhaps you can’t, but within these waves of concentration the rate of word production ebbs and flows.
I think that is how a lot of work happens. There are a lot of ebbs and flows. But there is no constant flow state. I know that some very smart people will argue that the environment plays a large role in generating the best conditions to enter the flow state. That is probably true, but a lot of the time, the environment is not in our control. However, that little blue light that keeps flashing on my phone indicates that one of my applications thinks it needs my attention. That is something completely within my control. I could flip my phone over. I could turn my phone off. But my precious little dopamine machine stays on because I crave that distraction. It’s really hard to concentrate when you are craving the distraction.
Maybe I don’t reach the flow state because I am addicted to my cell phone. Maybe it would return if I simply turned the phone off and disconnected this laptop from the internet until I was finished. However, my workflow is so interconnected with the internet that it almost feels harder to work when disconnected. The internet is a double edge sword. An incredible resource. An excellent distraction.
Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing. There are still things that I work on that when I am in the right mood I can focus on for long periods of time. I don’t consider myself being in the flow state because I don’t make a career out of those activities, but they aren’t entirely passive. I had a great time making some of my college basketball ranking algorithms. They aren’t something I can make money off (I haven’t won any bracket pools yet), but they still required several hours of focused work. Maybe the money taints the art of it all. Maybe I would have more fun and focus at work if I didn’t have to be there and I could work on whatever I felt like working on. This is the dream. In the meanwhile, I’ll settle with trying to get a few good hours with concentrated output and call it a day.