When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recognized the idea of flow, we finally had a name to define the pleasure we get from what we do. Many of us experience "the flow" each day; we lose all the distractions, dive into something, and do not notice how the time flew by.
Csikszentmihalyi doesn't mention losing track of time with being busy in multiple things all the time; he means getting involved in only one thing. And whatever that is, it has to be part of, as Cal Newport says, deep work.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
— Cal Newport on Deep Work
Newport's and Csikszentmihalyi's ideas are very close to each other; we can't have the flow without deep work.
Although both ideas ignite satisfaction, achieving them is difficult, especially in the rise of remote work. Thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, we have more video calls than we had ever before.
The problem is not the remote work, as it's been there for years; it is how we miserably fail in our adaption to it.
Where are you, my focus time?
For many people, the nature of the work translated from some meetings, working alone, and social connections to video calls for everything: meetings and social relationships. Once everything was converted to video calls, the work became shallow.
Having back-to-back meetings was always a problem. While working at home, we anticipated having, maybe unconsciously, more focus time because there are no people around us. Instead, what we got is shallow work, which is unsatisfying.
Without a peaceful and highly focused mental state, a.k.a. flow, we cannot be satisfied with our work. We want to get into deep work, lose track of time, become entirely focused on a subject, and feel quenched.
What is even worse is that each day without deep work, we lose our focus skills more and more. Not practicing deep work makes our focusing ability suffer, and each day we don't focus, we build a long-lasting detrimental impact.
Removing all distractions to give ourselves entirely to the work we do is not easy. If our mind is already in a shallow work mode, it requires deliberate training. It's tempting to constantly check messages, emails and jump from one task or meeting to another. We can suddenly stop all these activities, but we also have to fight with the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
Once we confront FOMO and train our minds, we start to get more things done. Both Czsiksenmihaly and Newport are correct with their idea of entirely focusing on a single thing; they both also accept that it's difficult to achieve if the mind is constantly distracted. They have strategies to improve focus time and get into a deep workflow, but I found them challenging. However, I found one routine remarkable: having deep walks.
Let's Go to Deep Walks
The deep walk concept is similar to the deep work. But instead of hands-on working on coding, writing, or anything else, we take a walk and think about a specific topic.
The deep walk is different than walking from the bus to home during the commute. An essential condition of a deep walk is that you have no electronics allowed. No phone, no music, no headphones, no smartwatch; just pen and paper (and your keys and ID if you need to). It's not a workout or commute; it's a thought exercise.
During the walk, there should be one problem or topic to think about. The topics can be anything that requires holistic thinking. It might be the feedback for a team member, the project strategy to plan, the roadmap that the team needs, or even an idea we have read in a book or online article. Anything.
Deep walk empowers you to think deeply about many things and solve your problems. When you think about and focus on one topic, magic doors open, and you see many patterns, hidden issues, and small nuances. The trick is staying in one subject at a time to keep the mind under restriction.
Thinking is a lonely activity. As much as we can invite others to deep walks, we must accept loneliness while embracing cooperation.
Accepting the Loneliness, Embracing Collaboration
Creativity comes from merging loneliness and collaboration. Having a balance between working alone and with others is a crucial step toward a satisfying life. Loneliness isn't enough solely. Humans are social animals and need collaboration.
If you are not a person to go for a walk alone, you can also invite a friend and walk together like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did. They developed their ideas, challenged each other in their long walks. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize from the results of these walks. Although Nobel Prize makes him an outlier, everything started from their walks, as he wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow.
We developed a routine in which we spent much of our working days together, often on long walks. For the next fourteen years, our collaboration was the focus of our lives, and the work we did together during those years was the best either of us ever did.
— Daniel Kahneman, on Thinking, Fast and Slow
On the other hand, boredom and loneliness are unavoidable, and accepting the inevitable enables us to achieve great results. Without having time to ourselves, we can't unleash creativity.
Only the person who doesn't constantly need a pleasant environment to enjoy the moment and rarely gets bored passed the test to become creative.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on The Flow
While turning off notifications, phones, and other distracting gadgets is somehow easy, we forget one of the most significant distractions: our mind.
Duel with The Mind
Getting into a creative activity demands a constant nudge of the mind. When we get into the creative activity, what we get is resistance. Our minds tell us to do the laundry first, clean the room, tidy up the apartment, plan the week, or procrastinate and play a game while we try to focus on a thing.
Life's most crucial duel for creative activity is between focus and resistance. Be it writing, coding, or doing anything, the resistance tries to steal our focus time.
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that's what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned.
– Steven Pressfield on Resistance in The War of Art
We can remove all the electronic devices to focus more. However, restraining the mind is not so easy, and it requires awareness and mindfulness.
Csikszentmihalyi, Newport, Pressfield, Kahneman have done many things in their lives, including becoming the bestselling authors. We all have many things to learn from their lives.
When you need to think about and work on an issue, either alone or in collaboration, turn off all notifications, step away from all electronics, grab a pen and paper, and go for a deep walk. Invite a friend if you want to but focus on a single topic at once. You will be surprised by the results.