Understand Your Own Flow States

Flow states are critical in harnessing your full potential.  This is self-knowledge I first discovered in college and have been exploiting and refining ever since.  Paul Ford once insightfully remarked that “intelligence is not evenly distributed” when you talk about the workday or workweek.  Sometimes you’re deep in the weeds and really need to rev up those RPMs in order to debug a tricky coding problem or reason through a piece of logic.  Other times, you’re in cruise-control mode and barely mentally there.  Your body may physically be at the office for the sake of appearances but you’re really a thousand miles away on Cloud 9 daydreaming about that long-lost girlfriend, getting that last donut, or otherwise just entirely mentally blank, from brain exhaustion or something else.  And then other times, you’re somewhere in the middle– the tank’s about half-full.  You recognize you’re sufficiently fatigued that you’re definitely not at your best.  But also that you’ve got a little bit more inside that you can give before you conk out for the day.

Obviously, flow states are a kinda spectrum.  But in my own life, I’ve found that there are broadly four different demarcation points on the gauge that are significant.  The first level, 100%-Awesome, is my first 90 minutes of every morning.  I wake up, make my coffee, and all of neurons are refreshed and rearing to go.  This is definitely when I do my most creative work.  Sometimes, I’m so taken with an idea I don’t even brush my teeth immediately after I wake.  I keep a cot next to my computer setup and I literally just roll straight out of bed to my computer and begin writing.  (Sometimes coding, but usually writing.)

After 100%-Awesome, I usually brush my teeth.

The second level, for me, is somewhere around 70-80%.  At this level, I can do some coding.  Writing is kinda shot.  But there are large parts of coding that is honestly mechanical and blue-collar-esque.  Eg. I need to write mock stubs for the database or need to write a new REST API call.  I know exactly what I need to do.  But I just need to do it.  I can usually give about two hours here in this zone.

Somewhere between Level 3 and Level 2, I try to exercise.  Exercising actually requires surmounting a “hump of inertia” first so if I deplete my energies too much, I’ve found I actually can’t rouse myself to exercise. The trick is starting your exercise routine at the very tail end of Level 2 before you’ve dropped too far into Level 3 territory.

Level 3 is around 40-60%.  Alrighty, at this level, motivation is definitely starting to wane.  The neurons are basically tired for the day and many have checked out entirely.  When I get to Level 3, especially the tail-end of Level 3, I reach for the “cruise-control tasks.”  Unloading and loading the dishwasher or spending time with Bagel like going grocery shopping together.  Usually, Bagel likes to eat together and watch a TV show too.  Well, watching TV is literally among the most braindead activities that exist in modern human life.  So when I’m at Level 3, I can dutifully contribute my daily Bagel Time that she requires in order to maintain our relationship, without wasting any of my high-performance cycles.

Level 4 is somewhere around 10-20%.  At this point, we’ve hit the iceberg for a good solid two hours already and most of the compartments are flooded.  At this point, nothing is going to get done.  Literally, nothing.  I’m in a vegetative state and usually can’t even summon the wherewithal to brush my teeth and shower.  But I have a super-picky OCD-habit where I literally can’t get into bed until I’ve showered.  So if I’ve mismanaged by day for some reason, and get stuck in purgatory, I will literally just lie down on the floor on my back.  The key is starting the daily shutdown subroutine with enough juice left in the tank to actually finish shutting down.  Else, I just get stuck in the middle of shutting down for the day.  Once I’ve sufficiently “recharged,” I then climb up, off the floor (a herculean effort sometimes, truly), and finish the routine– brushing my teeth, showering, and going to bed.

And that’s a typical Wobble day!  The next morning, we do it all over again!