Getting into the Flow

I came across an entry on Michael Buffingtons blog this evening where he discusses the techniques he uses to ‘get into the flow’. Reading his suggestions (such as a cold office, limiting his number of apps etc.) I started to think about how I go about focusing my mind to accomplish the job at hand.

At work I sit in an open plan office (no cubicles) that is so distracting it hurts (telephone, colleagues and no end of pointless crap to deal with). I like to get into the office by 8am and when I can, I will remain productive until midday. I’m often one of the first into the office and I find I can have an incredibly productive hour before the phones calls etc. begin – in fact I like to use this time to tackle any of my tougher tasks. I tend to spend the afternoon doing tasks that are necessary rather than enjoyable – these tend to be quick, 5 – 10 minute jobs that don’t require much brain power, but have me darting from one system to another that would break my though pattern if I were trying to mix with development.

On an evening I have a totally different beast to contend with – the fiancé! I have a really short commute to work (a 15 minute walk) and I find that I’m still in ‘work mode’ when I get home, so I tend to do anything I can other than sit at my laptop. At home I have the loft converted into an office which is quiet and separate to the living space so I can distance myself from home and work life. I tend to find that I am the most productive past 11pm until I’m exhausted and crawl into bed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go down well with the other half and so I have to find a delicate balance between the ideas factory on my shoulders (that *never* seems to stop) and the fiancé ;-)

So, back at the coalface, a short list of ‘stuff’ that helps me get into the zone:

  • Productivity apps – I use a great tool called StrawpEX (based on the Nullsoft SEX tool) which is a handy note-taker, text jotter thing. It sits in the (Windows) system tray, launching the text area when clicked; saves are automatic, so I just have to click back to the app I was in or the desktop. I find that I can detail ideas, to-do items and update project tasks (read: print from word and take to review meetings) very easily without the tool getting in my way. It also has a *very* small foot print.
  • Caffeine – I love my coffee (and it has to be decent percolated stuff, not instant) – a good brew can keep me going for a few hours and I never seem to crash. I *try* not to drink cans of coke, pepsi etc at my desk and when I’m not drinking coffee, I will try and have a bottle of chilled water close at hand. One of the commenter’s on Michaels blog mentioned green tea – apparently there is a mild caffeine buzz and no detrimental side effects or crashes (plus antioxidants!!) – Avey was right all along….
  • Music (at home) – I really love listening to the BBC radio programmes that are online (my licence fee goes to good use after all). One minute I may be listening to 1Xtra, Radio2, some politics show or comedy – unlike several people I’ve talked to, I never seem to get phased by the talking on some of the shows. I also recently started to listen to the DAB station Chill; there is no talking, just easy-listening Tai Chi for your ears!
  • Silence (is golden) – Or at least a lack of phone/colleague distraction!

I also like some of the other ideas that Michael mentioned, such as a cold office and limiting the number of apps I’m running (bad, bad Bloglines!! bad, bad Gmail!!); I’ve also just read about a nifty little app called Temptation Blocker that is worth a try (bugger, the link doesn’t work).

I’m going to try and make a more conscious effort and see whether it is possible to increase my productivity with a few changes to my work and lifestyle pattern. Roll on the green tea…