I’ve been reflecting on how I spend my time and I’ve concluded that the structure of my day isn’t conducive to flow.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
People are happiest and feel most satisfied whilst in flow. The “fully immersed” part is the key and, parroting Nat Torkington a bit, we live in an era of continuous partial attention that disrupts immersion. So, no flow.
I’d deliberately side-stepped IM and Twitter, but without consciously noticing it, I let my email and blogs reading habits — distractions on their own — to become interrupts.
So it’s time for a change.
My friend Dan Buettner — an honest to god explorer and, these days, an expert on making lifestyle change stick (see his work as longevity/life-expectancy activists) — tells me that our psychological makeup can only absorb a fixed amount of change.
You’ve got n-units of changeability that you can spread out; spread it too thin and none of it takes.
Given that, I’m keeping this simple. For the new year I will:
- Arrange my work and leisure to be uninterrupted, or as nearly so as is possible.
In practice, this means I’ve set my email client to only check for new mail when I prompt it to do so; I’ll only check it once a day. Similarly, I’ll only check blogs once a day and with a time limit.
I tried this out over the holidays. It was difficult to avoid the temptation to check email or see what’s new on programming.reddit.com, but after a longer-than-expected withdrawal period I found the change refreshing.
Whereas before I was always running off to check my email or see what’s new in blogland, now I can code/write (during the day) or read a book (at night).
Having large, productive blocks of time is helping me achieve my second “Dan In the New Year” objective:
- Favor sleep
Previously, I’d get to the end of the day and feel unsatisfied. One of the ways I feel satisfied when I’m creating and learning, so I’d go looking for something new to read about in blogland and, before I knew it, it’d be 1:00am.
The thing is, with this new schedule I’m still consuming the same volume of email and blogs; strangely, I can get into flow doing email or blogs as a stand-alone activity because I give it the same uninterrupted approach that I’m giving the rest of my time.