Thursday, January 21, 2010

Flow

In my last entry, I talked about a book called Drive that's all about motivation. One of the interesting concepts in the book is "flow," when a person is focused, undistracted, performing a task, and enjoying it. The book encourages people to find what maximizes their individual flow. So, here's some musings on it for me.

Times when I'm feeling good flow
-Reading, watching presentations-taking in and processing information when the information is relevant, and presented in bite-sized chunks
-Writing - outlining, filling in details, using it to organize my thoughts
-Discussing ideas and arguing it out in a safe, friendly forum
-Brainstorming ideas
-Searching for information on a well-defined, topic for a relevant purpose
-Designing a project, experiment, apparatus
-Performing a short set of routine tasks with a clear benefit/purpose
e.g. the 2-3 hour protocol for preparing my experimental samples
-Troubleshooting, problem-solving with purpose, freedom, for a limited time, and with good feedback on what is or isn't working
-Developing protocols - with purpose, for credit (even if it's exchanged credit with a labmate)
-Teaching - teaching someone interested and invested who does their part
-Taking data - when the data rolling in is interpretable
-Analyzing data - cranking out statistically relevant qualitative or quantitative conclusions
-Interpreting data - drawing conclusions from the data and analysis and incorporating the literature
-Running, walking, hiking, physical activity, especially outdoors
-Performing any task with a clear and definite purpose that allows me to use my mind, body, and talents to perform and complete said task, but without an unreasonable number of barriers

Flow killers
-Reading, watching presentations, when the information is irrelevant, overwhelmingly new, or overwhelmingly difficult to understand and evaluate
-Writing - when I lose sight of the goal
-Feeling ill, hungry, in pain, very tired
-Discussing anything in an aggressive, judging, antagonistic forum
-Brainstorming ideas and being quickly judged on them
-Searching for information on an ill-defined topic for a purpose not relevant to my own goals, for which I will receive no credit
-Searching for information and finding nothing or too much
-Searching for information and running into roadblocks like inaccessible journals or books, or possibly semi-relevant information that requires going to the library to access
-Designing a project, experiment, apparatus knowing that it's unlikely that I will be allowed to follow through and will therefore receive no credit for it, or designing it even though I think it's unlikely to work or yield publishable results but have been forced to design it by someone else
-Performing a long set of highly repetitive, tedious tasks, especially without a clear benefit
e.g. preparing samples for someone else who won't give me any credit
-Troubleshooting, problem-solving with no purpose, or under strict instruction, or for a long, long time when it's only a small, tiny part of the bigger purpose and/or with poor feedback on what is or isn't working
-Developing protocols - without purpose, or without credit, without well-defined goals, without good measures of what works or doesn't, involving long, repetitive processes with no idea what works or not and with little chance that a full day of work will yield interpretable results
-Teaching someone who doesn't care, pay attention, or do their part (e.g. repeatedly asks about stuff you already told them or that they should know how to look up)
-Taking data - when data is uninterpretable
-Analyzing data - if it's too repetitive, if it begins to seem unlikely that results will be uninterpretable in a qualitative or quantitative, statistically relevant sense
-Interpreting data - when I'm afraid it says nothing interesting to anyone or that ties into the literature
-Performing any task with an unclear purpose, or that is such a tiny part of a goal that it's not clear that a better/easier/faster way of meeting that goal may exist
-Encountering many time and energy consuming obstacles such that it begins to look like time and energy would be better spent pursuing a different, more accessible goal
-Performing tasks that would be somewhat helpful, but the tradeoff of effort to help fullness starts to look unbalanced
-Trying to complete projects that would be easy if supported by others but that become hard without that support
-Trying to complete an unsupported project and reaching the point where support is needed but being afraid to ask for it because the non-supporter is not supportive and is scary
-Feeling like any goal is hopeless

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