Has someone ever advised you to “go with the flow,” meaning to “relax and accept a situation, without trying to alter or control it”? These days “flow” has a different meaning, coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has been called the “world’s leading researcher on positive psychology.” If you’re “in a flow state” you are completely absorbed in a task or activity to the point that you lose track of time or possibly forget to eat.
According to Wikipedia, during flow, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Zen practitioner and writer Leo Babuta says flow leads to productivity, but not the kind where you find yourself checking off your things-to-do lists; instead, it’s the kind where you are accomplishing “important and long-lasting things.”
When I was writing my 50,000 word novel for National Novel Writing Month I did achieve a flow state. It was a matter of necessity in order to put 1,667 words a day into complete sentences that melded into complete paragraphs that told a story (sort of). Usually it took thirty to forty-five minutes to settle down my “monkey mind,” decide on the day’s direction, and fully concentrate. Lately I have been less able to recreate that experience and I know why: email. Email is the problem. I let any and all notices of email pull me out of my “trance.”
I read an article last week about a study of workplace productivity. Researchers compared one group of workers who did not access their emails for a week to another that accessed them often. Of course, the group freed up from the beeps or other notifications on their screens were the most productive.
Starting today email is one area where I’m not going to “go with the flow.” As soon as I read the three new messages that just landed in my inbox.