Posts Tagged ‘flow’

Link train–10X Productivity–Part 2–Flow

June 17, 2012 Leave a comment

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” –

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.

Link train–10X Productivity–Part 1–10X-ers or Superstars

June 17, 2012 1 comment

I was reading “Super-star programmers – Difference engine: Wired for speed” in the Economist’s science and technology blog, I found the link via Prismatic. I found a bogie of links from this article and referred my book-shelf for a few classic books on the topic of productivity.

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

Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules by Steve McConnell

“Super-star programmers – Difference engine: Wired for speed”

…best programmers generally outperform the worst by a factor of ten, but that there was at least a tenfold difference in productivity among software organisations. Within individual firms, the difference in performance was only 20% or so. Clearly, the brightest programmers tended to congregate in places that had a reputation for attracting talented people; where the challenges were enticing, and the conditions conducive to good work. In many cases, that meant leaving large software companies to join smaller ones or to start their own

from Super-star programmers – Difference engine: Wired for speed

It lead me to “Thrust, Drag and the 10X Effect” blog in Venkatesh Rao’s web site .

…Thrust items create high value. They are autotelic: they involve a mindful state of flow as discovered by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, which emerges when you are just beyond the edge of your current skill level, and have internalized the performance standards of the creative field, so that you are able to continuously monitor the quality of your own output via internal feedback…

…Generating thrust means you have to be capable of some sort of mindful-learning deliberate-practice behavior.In other words, you need a thrust engine…

Unfortunately, thrust engines have a lifespan (generally between 7-10 years). You have to get through an initial starter-motor phase, hit an ignition point, and then keep the engine running until it wears out. You’d better have another engine starting up by that point, or you’ll be in trouble

from “Thrust, Drag and the 10X Effect” –

I also searched for Joel’s article mentioned in “Super-star programmers – Difference engine: Wired for speed” and read that. The article is titled “Hitting the High Notes”

…The real trouble with using a lot of mediocre programmers instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they work, they never produce something as good as what the great programmers can produce.

Five Antonio Salieris won’t produce Mozart’s Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years…

from “Hitting the High Notes” –

Peopleware – Productive Projects and Teams, Chapter 8 – You never get anything done around here between 9 and 5

Three rules of thumb seem to apply whenever you measure variations in performance over a sample of individuals:

  1. Count on the best people outperforming the worst by about 10:1.
  2. Count on the best performer being about 2.5 times better than the median performer.
  3. Count on the half that are better-than-median performers outdoing the other half by more than 2:1.

Rapid Development – Taming Wild Software Schedules, Chapter 2 – Rapid Development Strategy

Since the late 1960s, study after study has found that the productivity of individual programmers with similar levels of experience does, indeed vary by a factor of at least 10 to 1 (Sackman, Erikson, and Grant 1968, Curtis 1981, Mills 1983, DeMarco arid Lister 1985, Curtis et al. 1986, Card 1987, Valett and McGarry 1989).
Studies have also found variations in the performance of entire teams on the order of 3, 4, or 5 to 1 (Weinberg and Schulman 1974; Boehm 1981; Mills 1983; Boehm, Gray, and Seewaldt 1984).

Some of my own thoughts on the same.

There is a possibility of building a 10X-er or a team of Super-stars, A High performing team (HPT).

The need may be because

  • Only a High performing team of 10X-ers can build the complex product / framework needed.
  • The High Performing team can build a product 2.5 times faster than a median / average performing team.

Hiring and maintaining a High Performance Team

  • If 1 in 4 people are capable of 10X productivity the hiring effort roughly quadruples.  If the recruitment team is not 10X then we may not be able to hire people for a High Performance team.
  • Running a team of 10X-ers requires a manager who is a 10X-er.
  • Running a team of 10X-ers requires more effort from the manager (may be 10X).
  • If your sales team estimates a project based on a HPT of 10X-ers and the delivery team is average or worse the estimates may be off by 2.5X or 10X or worse yet the delivery team may fail.