Deciphering the details
The challenge-skills spectrum, the hardest thing about creativity, monotasking and pomodoro technique, writing tips from a acclaimed writer
Challenge and Skill levels for Flow state
Not so long ago, an open conversations with my manager veered into the topic of ‘flow state’- a term coined by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura. It is that feeling of being ‘in the zone’. We experience the flow state when we do what we love.
I was familiar with the overall concept of the flow state. What was new to me was how the level of challenges and skills define our mental states and particularly the flow when doing an activity.
When we do an activity with above-average challenges and above-average skills, that would be the flow zone.
On the contrary, if the challenge is high and skills are not there yet, we experience an arousal state- being pushed beyond our comfort level. As for control, we feel comfortable but not very excited because we don't feel challenged enough.
Other mental states that yield from the combinations of challenges and skills aren't very optimal.
I think learning about this is helpful to evaluate our mental states when it comes to doing certain tasks and understanding where we fall on the challenge-skills spectrum.
The hardest thing about creativity
One of my core beliefs is that creativity and curiosity will radically change how we see the world.
A recent good read was a much needed reminder that the creative process is full of emotional ups and downs. While creators love their work in general, this work is full of anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt.
To navigate creative blocks, creators need skills in managing emotions to increase their creative persistence.
Also, setting helpful expectations around experiencing ups and downs, the importance of completing one’s work (good enough is better than perfect) and being aware that one’s work will be criticized helps navigate the unpleasant emotions when it comes to creativity.
Monotasking and the Pomodoro technique
I think about productivity a lot these days as I look to work efficiently within an amount of time I spend doing anything to maximize my output.
While there are many techniques and advices out there, there's certainly no one size fits all.
There's two things I've experimented with that are most successful for me:
Monotasking: It’s the exact opposite of multitasking. It means doing only one thing at a time. This isn’t 100% foolproof given the nature of work demanding context switching but can be applied on many occasions when we control the amount of context switch.
Pomodoro: This is the best technique to start mono-tasking. I first came across this technique through Dr. Barbara Oakley's Coursera course 'Learning how to Learn'. I've since had better results utilizing the Pomodoro often for any task that I find demands more deeper focus from me. Lately, I have been using the Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant or sometimes a plain old timer on my phone for this. Here's another good read on this topic.
Margaret Atwood’s top five writing tips for aspiring writers
I love it when acclaimed prolific writers talk about their writing process or share their tips with aspiring writers. A good one that highly resonated with me was from Margaret Atwood who offered 5 tips:
Get a notebook. Write down things that come to your head that you think might be useful later.
Read a lot and read critically (i.e I like this, I do not like that, why do I like this, what qualities do I like about it), notice how the writer is putting the story together and how they are handling the language of the story.
Pay attention to your posture, and get enough exercise. It is important.
If you come across a block, go for a walk or take a nap. Both are great for your mind to problem solve.
Don't be afraid to throw things out. When you are writing, nobody is seeing it except you so don't worry about what other people might think of it while you are writing. If you then decide this isn't where you want to go or what you want to put out there, don't be afraid to trash/ archive it.
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