During the hardest parts of lockdown I would carom wildly from boredom, to anxiety, to worry. An unproductive and sadness inducing cycle.
I did not like that, at all.
What escaped me was getting into flow: That state where my skill level perfectly matches the challenge level. Where I get to experience joy, connection, and growth.
Finding all my states on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's mental states chart, I started playing with that.
Pomodoros I have learned over the years fits my unconscious quite well. In that 25 minute timebox I have certainty.
This is what I got to:
At the end of every pomodoro I ask myself where did I land on the flower of states. And I put a dot there. Then I would ask, what can I change in the next pomodoro, to get closer to flow?
Knowing that flow is when my skill level perfectly matches the challenge level, I have only two variables to work with: In the next pomodoro (and only for the next pomodoro):
Am I going to change my skill level, or am I going to change the challenge level?
If I found myself in anxiety: Then the challenge level was too high. For the next pomodoro I could either drop the challenge level or increase my skill level.
If I found myself in boredom: The challenge level was too low. I can increase it for the next pomodoro.
If I found myself in apathy: Well, then upping both the challenge level and the skill level required is an option.
That’s it. Two variables, a map of where I am and a map of where I want to go:
If I choose to increase my skill level, I would typically choose to learn more in the next pomodoro. Maybe go read the fine documentation available, thoroughly. Maybe write down the problem I am solving clearly. Maybe check in with someone and talk it through with them.
If I choose to drop the challenge level, I would find ways to make it a smaller one. Maybe take an even smaller step. Maybe use an oblique strategy to spark a new angle of thinking. Maybe take a walk and think on it away from where I was. Maybe refactor a mess into less of a mess for a bit.
Increasing the challenge level is a fun one: Injecting little games to play with myself. Games like strictly only using the keyboard to navigate around. Or keeping perfect posture. Or getting making no typos or syntax errors. Or getting as close as possible to zero internal interruptions.
I have not yet decided to decrease skill.
When working with others, I invite them to play this game with me at the end of every pomodoro too. Rich conversations start from realising that we are in wildly different parts of the flower of states. Visualising it somewhere and tracking how we shift over a day and a week is also deeply satisfying. I use an editable Google Slide for that, with dots we put down at the end of every pomodoro.
I find it a great way to signal to yourself and to your team where you are at.
If you start playing with this and you start building strategies for changing those two variables, or you learn anything of interest, please share it with me. Any and all feedback too.
This then is the game I play to get into flow, when it is a day where it does not seem achievable. Which, sometimes, is most days.