Publishing noob

Notes and observations from the world of book publishing

About The Flow

I have talked about this topic with a few different persons lately. Those who not familiar with the subject, “The Zone” or Flow in psychology is defined as:

“Mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

So anyone who has ever lost the sense of time or awareness of hunger and other bodily functions working exclusively in one interesting task, please raise your hand. This is a universal phenomenon, which is a desirable state of mind in education, sports or programming just to name a few. The benefits are quite well-known, like higher productivity and feelings of enjoyment. I have experienced this many times during coding sessions or when reading a good book. I do not intentionally try to achieve the flow, sometimes it just happens. Now replaying those times, I found some key elements or requirements for achieving the flow:

  • Good working conditions, no interruptions
  • Clear goal for the task at hand, such as delivering a working prototype
  • Task completion takes around 3 to 5 hours
  • Immediate and clear feedback
  • Good balance between challenge level and required personal skills for completing the task

So what this has to do with publishing or working in the publishing industry? Authors are often asked about the writing process and I cannot count the times they have actually described the Flow. One could say that publishers purpose might be to bring out stories that captivate people enough to produce the flow state.

Same thing in the workplace, you should be able to offer a working environment which actually helps people achieve the flow. But if you think about the three basic conditions for flow:

  • Clear set of goals
  • Balance between challenge and skills
  • Clear and immediate feedback

For me they sound pretty basic principles in any good management practices. In real life, it might be difficult to achieve the conditions for getting to the flow. A lot of people suggest removing distractions, like shutting down phones, email clients, IM’s and the if possible, the door. Also other sensory distractions like office noise can be cancelled with headphones. Choice of music is up to you, but it is suggested that you pick something that is familiar and preferably does not have any vocals. Banging techno or any electronic music works best for me. I have also some people reporting that they have never actually experienced being in the zone, which is a pity. But if not, I would suggest trying this by first getting all the conditions for achieving the flow and trying it without trying too much. If after a session you have feelings  of lost self-consciousness or track of time, congratulations, you have visited the zone.

Internet is filled with posts about the subject, here just a few I picked up:

Staying Sharp: Getting and Staying in the Zone – TIME
Want to get in the Zone? It’s as easy as child’s play.
7 Tips for programming in The Zone
How To Get In The Zone, And Stay There


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