Flow


From Slashdot,

“New survey data suggests that Americans are split over whether Blackberrys are chaining them to work. While people who own Blackberries feel ‘more productive’, those with Blackberrys are more likely to work longer hours and feel like they have less personal time than those without. A Director of Marketing Strategies who owns a Blackberry pointed out that many employees feel obligated by employers who have handed out the devices. ‘While being always on in a social context is a natural for young people, many of those in the 25-54 age group with families and corporate jobs are struggling with work-life blending. There is a need for the mainstream workplace culture to offer ways to counterbalance.'” Is the constantly connected, often mobile nature of the modern workplace a good thing, or not?

At the height of juggling two projects, I learned to sleep with my Treo next to the alarm clock a few feet from my head. Often waking long enough during the night to check my email once. Colleagues would often tell me and others they would be available 24 hours a day. It became almost impossible to enjoy a meal whether it be breakfast at 7am or dinner at 8pm on a Saturday evening.

The amount of stress associated with being constantly connected is well documented. Work-life balance is severely diminished and the ability to make rational decisions, when inundated with constant communication, decreases. The nature of information for the 21st century has also increased productivity expectations beyond what is attainable. Could this lead to our inability to concentrate or perhaps something more?

From Dr. Richard Restak’s, The New Brain,

“The demands upon the human brain right now are increasing,” according to Todd E. Feinberg, a neurologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “For all we know, we’re selecting for the capacity to multi-task.”

Feinberg’s comment about “selecting” gets to the meat of the issue. At any given time evolution selects for adaptation and fitness to prevailing environmental conditions. And today the environment demands the capacity to do more than one thing at a time, divide one’s attention, and juggle competing, often conflicting, interests.

To not surprise, this has been associated with the growing prevalence of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) among younger populations, but could it also be once step in approaching the competency for chaos?

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For those of you who read my article Chaos and Flow, you are aware of the “time costs” associated with interruptions at work in terms of reshuffling your mental states to deal with said distractions. Now we have a corresponding dollar figure, $588 billion.

As the article alludes, just during the authoring of this piece, I was interrupted 3 times not the least of which caused a 5 minute decline in productivity however.

A study by Basex found office distractions take up 2.1 hours of the average day — 28 percent — with workers taking an average of five minutes to recover from each interruption and return to their original tasks.

While the causes of interruptions tended to vary widely, particularly as the seasonal holidays throw additional tasks our way, most agree it is the dizzying array of communication devices we possess. Where Linda Stone, a Seattle based writer, attributes this to a philosophy that

I don’t want to miss anything’ because being connected makes me feel important

I am more inclined to believe it is a combination of several factors.

First and most fundamental, human beings are social animals having an innate drive to connect, neurological pathways that have evolved over time endowing us with the capacity for altruism and sharing in each others stress. Second, we are constantly being bombarded with the theme that to succeed when asked we must always have the right information, the right idea lest we miss our big break. Third, I do believe that Ms. Stone is right to a degree but only as a factor of the first two points made.

We do have a need to feel important, our brains are trying to connect in a world where technology is creating opportunities to work anywhere at anytime and have access to countless arrays of information. Now what we have to determine, are our technological creations fighting what evolution has endowed us with, or have the organizations within which they are applied become obsolete?

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The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California, is the author of the concept Flow. Put simply, we all have the ability to develop a flow with the activities we participate in whether they be work or recreation related. We often describe this sensation as “being in the zone,” periods of time that are often accompanied by heightened creativity and productivity. Unfortunately we are reminded by Leon Ho at Lifehack.org, as the proliferation of information technology continues we find ourselves being consistently bombarded by minute distractions that break this cycle.

technologies is getting quicker and less turnaround on responses.
Consequently, this also leads to more interruptions and less time
between each interruptions. Both are big problem for all of our
productivity seeking individuals.

It has been documented that interruptions, such as multi-tasking, lead to a drop in
productivity, a situation I believe a majority of us have experienced. In 2001 Dr’s Joshua Rubenstein, David Meyer and Jeffrey Evans published an article in the American Psychological Society’s Journal of Experimental Psychology which tracked the “time costs” associated with constantly having to deal with these distractions. So what is the solution?

It is easy to suggest unplugging, scheduling time away from what has become a 24/7 world of cellphones, VoIP, and email, but is this an opportunity for something greater? In a later work, The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium, Csikszentmihalyi urges that the time has come to begin altering our behaviors and taking on activities that lead to greater complexity.

As we move forward do we need to push ourselves to develop a ‘chaos competency’ which may allow us to partition our thoughts in a hierarchy of ‘flow?’ Where one activity may be mentally paused while we attend to another? This is not a simple undertaking by any means, it took millennia for our brains to develop just to cope with our natural surroundings, it is reasonable to assume it will take longer to adjust to our own creations. Whatever the answer, it seems unlikely that interruptions and multi-tasking are going to disappear and that we must develop mechanisms to deal with these situations. We just need to be content with the end result when the time comes.

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