Flow

Fuzzy pink

Have the first new picture in quite some time. If anyone knows what the unidentified fuzzy pink plant is, let me know. This is one of those shots that I like but wish I could retake now, more than a year later, when I know what I'm doing much better (and, among other things, would know enough to try it multiple times from different angles).

When reading Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, one of the things that I hadn't pondered is the disruptive feeling of being in a deep flow state. He talks about how it causes time to do odd things and produces a strong focus on the flow activity, and I was nodding along and thinking about how wonderful that is when it happens. However, the other side of that is the flow state leads one to stop paying attention to everything other than the flow activity. Indeed, that's the whole point.

Over the last week or two, I've been playing with my schedule in an attempt to adjust in advance to east coast time for an upcoming business trip. This turned out to be largely unsuccessful at the level of aggressiveness that I was planning, mostly because my life has a lot more structure than it used to when I was doing this kind of thing routinely. But moving my schedule around does knock me out of all my regular routines and decouples me from the temporal cues I use to move through my normal set of daily activities.

Some of the effects have been mildly negative; for instance, I've not done well with exercising daily and I've not done as much creative writing recently as I normally like to. Some, though, have just been odd and interesting. Not only have I done a lot of work on finishing up required WebAuth changes for Stanford, I've also put in a huge burst of activity on OpenAFS. Some of that is because we've just switched to new tools, which are bright and shiny and fun to work with, but I think some of it was that unmooring my schedule and dropping cues I use to transition from one activity to another left me open to entering a rather intense flow state and staying in it for a fairly long period.

The disconcerting aspect of this is that I feel like I've dropped a nebulous set of "stuff" that I "should" be doing, so I have a strong sense of unease that something, somewhere, is falling on the floor because I've been "too" focused. This is increasingly bugging me, and making it hard to maintain flow. That's a very worthwhile revelation, since I suspect that sense that something, somewhere, requires my attention is the main thing that pulls me out of flow most of the time. (This is also something that a good time management system like Getting Things Done is supposed to address directly, but when I'm in this sort of flow state, I have a very hard time managing work, because I'm usually flowing from one task to another within a particular area and ignoring everything else on my task list. And reviewing the whole task list requires a wrenching context shift.)

I'm fairly sure that most of that nagging feeling is overstated. I have been not doing some things that I normally do. Some of those things are maintenance of personal relationships, and that would be a problem if I stayed in this pattern for a long period of time, but I'm not and they're not actually a problem at the moment. In other words, some of the warning signals are correct but significantly overstated.

Balancing flow states is clearly something that I'm not very good at yet. I would like to find a way to capture this feeling of intense productivity and accomplishment without the nagging unease and feelings of guilt about dropping other work. In a couple of weeks, I'll go back to a normal schedule, which will change the dynamic again, probably making it easier to do maintenance activities and harder to stay in concentrated flow. I think I want to tweak that a bit, but I'm not yet sure how.

Posted: 2009-07-17 11:25 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04