Get into the Flow

A big question that keeps coming up for an attention-deficit person like me is “How do you get into the flow?”

There are two things that work for me and I find them at loggerheads against each other. The problem is that it has been difficult to stick to either of them.

One is called being a night-owl, the other is called the MIT factor.

I love to work late nights. Life is completely undisturbed, you’re not going to get phone calls, there are no noises, nobody’s expecting email replies from you, nobody around to disturb you. All good.

But being nocturnal ain’t easy. Your whole life is thrown off-balance as well as your body’s natural cycle. Yet some of the best hackers I know are night-owls. They hack away their code and leave the rest to management. I’m not sure that’s a viable option for us in a startup where we do everything including working with many partner companies. Besides,  I don’t wish it to go to such depths of imbalance, for example, I want to maintain my regular running but it is not possible when you wake up late. And running in the evenings on Bengaluru roads is defined as insanity. The struggle is productivity/flow vs. life balance.

The second is called “The MIT Factor.” Do the Most Important Task first thing in the morning. It’s that simple. Don’t think about what’s ahead in the day, don’t think about what bills are pending, don’t think about planning to reach office on time (just have a fixed deadline when you have to start getting ready and think no more about it). Just switch on your computer or take out your pen and paper as soon as you wake up and start working on it. The important thing is Don’t think. Just start working on it.

The problem with the second option is that if you don’t wake up early, you again end up in the daily grind where you may not get focus. And you need to have the discipline to immediately start working. Whatever you do at the start of the day sets the mood for the rest of the day. For example, you check email first thing in the morning? You’ll tend to do the same activity for the rest of the day.

The bottom line is I think there is a psychological concept where you have to load the entire problem, the entire domain on what you’re working on into your head and that takes time, say 15-20 minutes and then you suddenly start solving problems. But if you subconsciously know that you’ll get disturbed any time in those 15-20 minutes, the brain almost gives up and doesn’t think it’s worth putting in that investment to get into the flow if it is going to ultimately get disturbed. Is this true? I have no idea, just a theory that I’m beginning to believe (I can’t remember if I read this somewhere or just an opinion I’m forming for myself).

I wonder how other people approach this concept of “getting into the zone.”

Further reading: