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Link train–10X Productivity–Part 2–Flow

Continuing on the topic of 10X Productivity, I will refer to this as “Flow” from here. I referred the following classics on the topic of Flow. A person with 10X productivity can be called a 10X-er or a Super-Star, I will use the term 10X-er from here.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) by Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister

On Flow

Rao’s article lead me to Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”

…There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule…It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour…

…But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started…

…When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all?…

“Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” – http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning.

I have been plagued by this and had felt guilty of this many times. But I am not alone Smile

Peopleware – Productive Projects and Teams, Chapter 8 – Brain Time Versus Body Time

During single-minded work time, people are ideally in a state that psychologists call flow. Flow is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state, there is a gentle sense of euphoria, and one is largely unaware of the passage of time: "I began to work. I looked up, and three hours had passed." There is no consciousness of effort; the work just seems to, well, flow.

Unfortunately, you can’t turn on flow like a switch. It takes a slow descent into the subject, requiring fifteen minutes or more of concentration before the state is locked in. During this immersion period, you are particularly sensitive to noise and interruption. A disruptive environment can make it difficult or impossible to attain flow.

Just as important as the loss of effective time is the accompanying frustration. The worker who tries and tries to get into flow and is interrupted each time is not a happy person. He gets tantalizingly close to involvement only to be bounced back into awareness of his surroundings. Instead of the deep mindfulness that he craves, he is continually channelled into the promiscuous changing of direction that the modern office tries to force upon him.

A few days like that and anybody is ready to look for a new job. If you’re a manager, you may be relatively unsympathetic to the frustrations of being in no-flow. After all, you do most of your own work in interrupt mode—that’s management—but the people who work for you need to get into flow. Anything that keeps them from it will reduce their effectiveness and the satisfaction they take in their work.

Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience

…the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.

Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. The swimmer’s muscles might have ached during his most memorable race, his lungs might have felt like exploding, and he might have been dizzy with fatigue—yet these could have been the best moments of his life. Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery—or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life—that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine.

…theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

Most people spend the largest part of their lives working and interacting with others, especially with members of their families. Therefore it is crucial that one learn to transform jobs into flow-producing activities, and to think of ways of making relations with parents, spouses, children, and friends more enjoyable.


  1. occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing 
  2. we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing
    the concentration is usually possible because 
  3. the  task  undertaken  has  clear  goals  and  
  4. provides  immediate feedback., 
  5. one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.  
  6. allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions.  
  7. concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. 
  8. the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.
    The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding. Surgeons speak of their work: “It is so enjoyable that I would do it even if I didn’t have to.” Sailors say: “I am spending a lot of money and time on this boat, but it is worth it—nothing quite compares with the feeling I get when I am out sailing.”
    The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.

Some of my own thoughts and conclusions based on the reading above and my personal experience with the concept of flow.

Even if you are 10X-er you productivity could vary based on


  • What if you are hiring and you have 2-3 15 min preliminary telephonic screen interviews spread over the day?
  • What if your stand up meeting is in the middle of the day to accommodate a distributed team in a different time zone?
  • IM is the new telephone, What if you get pings in the IM from recruiters for scheduling interviews, onsite development team for status, support.
  • What if you wear multiple hats, that of a developer which requires to manage your time on the maker’s schedule and that of a technical lead supporting a (distributed) team which assumes you manage your time on the manager’s schedule (accessible when needed).

Energy levels

What if you are going through a slump / bad patch / health issues and your energy levels are not 100%?

For whatever reasons if your optimal experiences dry out your intrinsic motivation sources dry out, and you start looking for extrinsic motivation. This contributes to a slump in energy levels contributing to a negative reinforcing loop / spiral. A 10X-er handles this situation poorly than the average person because he is not used this.

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