Thursday, October 7, 2010

Flow and Non-Flow Work

All work could be divided into two categories. One is flow and the other is non-flow.

There are (broadly speaking) two different categories that we can divide work in.
  • FLOW: Work which has clearly defined objectives. This type of work requires more analysis and focuses on a few small problems.
  • NON-FLOW: Work where the objective is not clearly delineated and is more creative in nature. This kind of work requires synthesis and the objective is to search and study many different problems and come up with a synthesis. This type of work basically determines what work is to be done.
Once the category of work is determined, we move onto to determining how to tackle both kinds of work

Flow requires prior knowledge of what you are going to do. There should be no distractions and once you reach a state of flow then work for long uninterrupted periods of time. The ideal environment for achieving flow is someplace which is completely unfamiliar to you and where you don't know anyone. An office is therefore not a nice place to achieve flow. The mere presence of a friend nearby would make you want to talk to him. The best thing to do would be to go to a completely alien environment where you wouldn't know how to distract yourself. At home you'll have your different time wasting devices etc so its best to go out. I have achieved flow on bus stops even. Noise is not an important factor in achieving flow but distractions are and one must be able to differentiate between the two.

Non-flow work is difficult to continue for longer time and focus should be on small bursts of intense work, 40 minutes maximum. Non-flow work cannot be done on autopilot which takes over in the state of flow since the nature and requirement of work keeps changing. Your brain has to work overtime to compensate for this variable nature of work. Rest periods are important here because your brain is essentially more creative when it does nothing. Eureka moments happen in the bathroom while taking a shower. Directed work only beneficial to the extent that your brain has something to work on. During the rest periods its best if you don't do anything. Newspapers and internet has a tendency to stimulate your brain in different directions, so any visual or non-visual distraction which might force your brain to think in other directions should be avoided. It would be better if you just took a walk, went to the gym etc. There are certain activities that make you think a lot naturally, like having a shower or sipping tea. Anyways, its not important if the the creative process doesn't kick in, our brains creative activity is generally abrupt and would happen at the most unexpected moments. Keep a notepad with you the next time you use the toilet even.

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