GTD: Flow

Long before the current (justified) enthusiasm over GTD, there was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, which he wrote about in a series of books beginning with Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

To me Flow thinking is deeply connected to musicianship. It’s no coincidence, for example, that the great trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard entitled a recent record “Flow.”

I recently came across a decent summary, that I hope will inspire some of you to get the book.

Flow (like GTD) is about action. However, that action must be defined by a series of self-awareness tests to ensure that the actions are worthwhile. In essence, you must strive to make certain that the actions you engage in bring you enjoyment, which is defined as different from pleasure.

Pleasure is both fleeting and does not allow for self-growth. More importantly, pleasure is derived from externalities, and is therefore outside of our control.

Enjoyment, on the other hand, is more profound, and is intrinsically rewarding. You know you are enjoying something when you feel very much in the present moment, rather than being concerned with externalities of time and other people.

I believe musicians understand these moments of Flow deeply, as they are something we experience when we “find the groove.” This can occur in a live performance setting, or in a recording session.

One of the key elements of knowing you are in the Flow, is when you lose track of time. This would explain some of the marathon concerts put on by bands like The Allman Brothers or Phish, and it explains how when you are recording a track alone, and things are going well, you can look up and find that hours have gone by like minutes.

The point is to identify the characteristics of these moments when you find Flow in your life, and aspire to focus on engaging in these activities more and more, and engaging less and less in the activities that don’t allow you to find Flow.

The necessary elements that define this Flow state are:

1. Confronting tasks that we have a chance of completing.
2. Concentration.
3. Concentration is possible because the task has clear goals.
4. Task provides immediate feedback.
5. A deep, effortless involvement removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
6. Enjoyable experiences allow one to exercise a sense of control over one’s actions.
7. Concern for self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
8. Sense of time is altered – hours pass by in minutes.

Looking for these eight elements and trying to maximize their occurrence in your life will allow you to be more productive, and will make your life more meaningful.

I find Flow to be another one of those examples that shows that artists really do have advantages over non-artistic types when it comes to productivity. I previously wrote about another advantage artists have involving Creative Zen.

These advantages lead to strengths in entrepreneurship and business in general.

I just do not accept that artistic people can not be good business people. Rather, I feel that artistic people can be the best possible business people.


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