Getting Into Flow

Monday, September 18 2006

I’ve been thinking heavily lately about Getting Things Done, and getting into flow. Lately I’ve been hearing the term flow used to describe something I’ve been accutely aware of for most of my life. It essentially means “in the zone” or “highly focused”. It’s when the only thing important at any given moment is the task at hand, and nothing else matters. Your mind is working like a perfect machine and is in a sort of unstoppable state.

Everyone gets into this state at one point or another – think of times when you’ve either been engrossed in creating artwork, photography, playing video games, being athletic, hiking, etc.

I’ve been noticing as I get older that it’s much harder for me to get into this zone. Even the slightest distraction can keep me away from getting into this highly productive state. So I decided to begin describing what seems to work, and what doesn’t. I’m not trying to be another Merlin Mann here, but by sharing my experiences I’m hoping that I’ll make stronger associations for myself.

That said, it took me four hours this morning to get to the point where I could even begin to focus on a single task for a several hour stretch. This is mostly because it’s Monday morning and I have ideas to capture, and communication that I need to conduct with clients and partners (as well as the desire to capture this process here on my blog).

But with all that behind me, here’s what’s getting me in the zone far:

  • Tools that help me quickly dump all my ideas and tasks into a single spot with minimal interface, and a high degree of trust that I’ll be able to get those ideas back out of the tools.
  • Sound isolating headphones. They block out any noise, even with no music playing, and because I’ve been productive while wearing them in the past, they’re helping now.
  • Music I’ve heard over and over again. New music tends to distract me (because I love new music, and like to savour and untangle the new sounds).
  • Three apps open and only those three – iTunes, Terminal and Textmate. I risk serious distraction with anything else open.
  • A cold office. Heat slows me down and makes me sleepy (though my office is threatening to warm up now).
  • Pepsi. Sad but true, the caffeine seems to help steady me. I will feel the sugar crash in about 2 hours though, so this needs to be solved. Any more caffeine than a single 12oz can scatters me.
  • Competition. When I feel like what I’m doing is in close competition with something else, I get a bit crazy and engrossed. I also get engrossed in games for this same reason.
  • Approaching cutoff time. I have four hours to get good work done. Surprisngly, this is a powerful trigger for me.

I plan on revisiting some these triggers to productivity in the near future as I take more interest in this. For now, I’m sitting on a surge of flow and I’m going to ride it out.