flow

Minimize Boring Tasks with Flow

The Sisyphus Series, Part III

If you have to push a boulder up a hill, when do you want to do it?—And by “when” I mean right after doing what and right before doing what? The modern day Sisyphus might choose to do it after work, before arriving home, exactly when he’s not going to the gym he signed up to be a member of. Or he might want to do it first thing in the morning, to get it out of the way and wake himself up. The principle here is choosing the timing that’s easiest for you.

I choose not to scoop my cats’ litter box in the morning, because I want as little responsibility in the morning as possible; morning isn’t a good time for me. I scoop at night, but not last thing before coming to bed, because I’ve just concluded my ablutions, and ick, gross. I prefer to do it some time (an hour or more) before my pre-bedtime routine, because otherwise getting ready for bed feels tedious enough that I begin to avoid it and stay up too late. So I scoop shortly after dinner, at exactly the same time that my wife feeds the cats. The argument has been made that this is illogical timing, as soon after they eat they will effectively undo my work. But I don’t care. Having poop in the box overnight is tolerable, and doing the chore when I mind it least makes it substantially less avoidance-worthy.

Another example. I coached someone who decided to take a rigorous professional exam that requires months of study. We explored the question of how he wanted to do his studying in terms of when and where it would fit best into the flow of his day. He found that studying while he ate lunch at work gave him natural start and end times, and the study material became more interesting than he had expected because it was now sandwiched between and in comparison with his job duties, which were less than enthralling.

To choose the timing that works well for you, let’s again (as we did in Part II) call on your imagination. Picture yourself ending one activity—leaving the bar where you hang out with friends on Friday nights, for instance—and then picture what you will probably do next—sleep it off at home, for instance—and then try inserting your task in between them—practicing for your driving test, for instance—and see how it feels to imagine that flow of events. If it doesn’t feel good, try out a different opportunity in your day: getting out of class with your friend who has a car, for instance—insert practicing for driving test—going to your retail therapy appointment with Dr. T.J. Maxx. And now check to see how this new flow feels.

Look for flows that score high on both the Easy and Settled Stomach scales, and low on the Concerning and Agitating scales. To do the scoring, consult your gut, your heart, and your intellect. Look for consensus; i.e. if any one part of you—gut, heart, brain—objects, move on and imagine a new flow.

Sometimes an easy flow is all we need to be able to get something done. Grocery shopping is a typical example of this; most people I talk to don’t despise their local supermarket, they just find going there inconvenient much of the time. Well, when—in between what two activities—is food shopping more on your way? That’s what easy flow is about: slotting a dull chore where it is least in your way and getting it out of the way as effortlessly as possible.


Make Boring Tasks Easy

The Sisyphus Series, Part I

I have the shittiest job in the house. I scoop my cats’ litter box. A couple of years ago I successfully traded the after-dinner clean-up for scooping the cat box plus a second round draft pick. I scoop every day. I don’t like doing it; I find it tedious and uninteresting. This is a challenge for me, an ADDer. My brain’s “reward center”—you know, the part of my brain that hands me a pink dopamine-stuffed walrus every time I shoot water into a clown’s mouth and burst a balloon, providing me the motivation to pick up the water pistol and compete against seven-year-olds—functions less than optimally; which is to say (to follow the absurd metaphor) that my brain is understocked with pink dopamine-stuffed walruses. I therefore have trouble feeling rewarded, and my motivation is apt to drop, unless I experience genuine interest in the activity. Scooping poop does not float my boat. Quickly I felt no sense of the value to me of having gotten out of washing the dishes. My motivation drained, and the chore became Sisyphean. Sisyphus, you may recall, pushed the same boulder up the same hill every day, for at night while he slept the gods caused the boulder to roll back down to the hill’s foot. Perhaps more than most, ADDers recognize Sisyphus’ fate as a divine curse.

The problem with a Sisyphean task is that it feels goalless. What satisfaction is to be had by rolling the boulder up the hill? Is there ice cream at the top? No. Can I brag that I did it? OK, I’ll take that. But then I have to do it again, and again, and again…. It’s difficult to get myself to do a chore I don’t feel is rewarding, unless I force myself. I don’t know about you, but when I force myself to do something I don’t want to do, I, the laborer, end up resenting myself, the boss. I chronically come to my forced task late, making me want to take disciplinary action against myself. Occasionally I’ll go on strike, and hire imaginary thugs to break the strike…. It gets ugly fast, and I look like an immature moron.

Most of the time my solution to this problem is to circumnavigate it. To the extent I can, I steer my life so as to maximize opportunities to do things I want to do, while respectfully declining things I don’t enjoy. I realize, however, that many do not enjoy the privilege of dodging undesirable tasks, and I myself still have to do things I don’t like, like change the cat box every day.

What can help us accomplish tasks that do not reward our effort with any feeling of accomplishment? Consider this. If you had to pick one, which boring task would you choose to take on: (a) one that required significant effort, was out of your way, and demanded constant attention, or (b) one that required a bit of effort, was on your way, and demanded periodic attention? This series is about how to turn boring overwhelming task (a) into boring doable task (b). For litter-box-changers everywhere, I offer the following principles:

  • Tool Power
  • Flow
  • Alienation of the Worker

Tools increase your power, making tasks puny, thereby reducing required effort. Flow lets you dispose of chores when it is most convenient for you. Alienation of the worker (that is, yourself) enables you to get through painfully tedious jobs competently with the equivalent of attentional Novocain, so you experience much less pain and tedium.

Each of these principles will be explored in practical terms in the next three posts.

Heart Chart

Ever wonder where your motivation is? Your heart is an excellent place to look.

Tracking how you spend your time and where your money goes are well known techniques, so why not track your energy and passion? Coach Kris Moauro devised this simple and incredibly fruitful self-observation exercise.

Chart Your Heart

When you wake up, how raring are you to meet and start your day? Throughout the day track three key factors on a scale of one to ten:

  1. What activity are you engaged in? (Note: sleeping, navel contemplation, and standing bovinely in a field all count as activities.)
  2. How does your heart feel?
  3. How energized do you feel?

Kris recommends charting your heart’s course for a month, and I second that: the heart and the moon are old friends and tend to travel together, so best to let them complete a whole cycle.

At the end of the month, review your Heart Chart. What patterns emerge? How do you want to feel? What kind of energy do you want to bring to and have in your life?

So many of us want to follow our heart. Sometimes a map is just what we need.

Sanctuary Visualization

Sit or lie so that you are completely comfortable. Let your eyes close.

Focus on your breath. Breathe naturally, and follow the rhythm of inhale… exhale…, as if your breaths were the sea gently washing up and back over the shore.

Relax each part of your body, one part at a time, from your feet to your head. With each breath, imagine light entering that part of your body as you inhale, and all tension draining away as you exhale:

  • Your toes—inhale light; exhale tension
  • Your feet—inhale light; exhale tension
  • Your calves—inhale…; exhale…
  • Your thighs…
  • Buttocks…
  • Pelvis…
  • Abdomen…
  • Back…
  • Chest…
  • Shoulders…
  • Upper arms…
  • Lower arms and wrists…
  • Hands and fingers…
  • Throat…
  • Back of your neck…
  • Back of your head…
  • Jaw…
  • Mouth…
  • Eyes and nose—inhale…; exhale…
  • Forehead and temples—inhale light; exhale tension
  • The top of your head—inhale light; exhale tension

In this state of relaxation, continue your breathing for a moment that lasts as long as you like.

Clear a space in your mind. Just ask everything else on your mind to step back for this moment. Your thoughts need not vanish, only stand back to give you space to be.

Let appear in that cleared space in your mind—a venerable stone stairway. This stone stairway leads down to a place that is solely for you. There are ten steps. When you want to, with one complete breath, in and out, go down the first step and hear a voice inside count:
  “10”——inhale—exhale
    With each subsequent breath, descend another step, counting down, slowly:
      “9”
        “8”
          “7”
            “6”
              “5”
                “4”
                  “3”
                    “2”
                      “1”

You may now step into your sanctuary, a beautiful, peaceful outdoor space created by your imagination, your inspiration, your intuition.

It can be a meadow, a lake, a beach, a waterfall, a grove, a mountain—any natural place where you feel completely secure and at peace. Here you are always safe and content. Here everything is beautiful and true.

No one can enter this place except you, and anyone you expressly invite in. Anyone you invite in will leave the moment you think of them leaving.

Explore your sanctuary. Walk around and discover what’s here. Let your bare feet luxuriate in the grass or sand, or whatever is on the ground. Breathe in the fragrances. Taste the air. Bask in the light and warmth. Hear the sounds—waves, breezes, rustling leaves.…

Everything here understands your every thought and feeling. If there are animals, you may communicate with them, and they will always love and obey you. You may have one or more animals who are your special companions. You can send thoughts to the flora, and every plant can soothe and heal you. Any water here is healing and refreshing when you drink or bathe in it. The air invigorates and inspires you. The light is suffused with warmth and nourishment for your spirit.

Somewhere in the landscape of your sanctuary, there is a source of fresh water; perhaps a spring, or a well, a pristine pool, a stream, an ancient fountain.… There can be more than one. The water here washes away pain, regret, error. It rinses away negative thoughts, opens your senses and pores to the light and warmth. Drinking the water cools and dissolves stuck emotions into new, lighter feelings, new understandings.

Somewhere there is a healing garden. You may create it yourself, or find it already in full bloom. You can cultivate anything you wish here: ideas, dreams, forgiveness, positive feelings, health… and anything you plant will grow. You can prune back whatever hinders your growth. You can weed out what you no longer need. You can plant things you’ve never grown before, new possibilities. Here your love and goodwill always increase.

Somewhere there is a seat for you made of stone or wood, or both, and any other material that makes it perfect for you to sit in. It is here that your Guardian—an angelic being dedicated to your welfare and best destiny—may visit you from time to time (and always when you call), and give you exactly what you need at that moment; guidance, insight, perhaps a special gift, and always comfort and reassurance.

You may stay in your sanctuary as long as your heart desires.

When you are ready to return from your sanctuary, you will find yourself at the bottom of the ancient stone staircase. Climb the ten steps, one at a time, taking a complete breath, in and out, at each step, starting with…
                      “1”——inhale—exhale
                    “2”
                  “3”
                “4”
              “5”
            “6”
          “7”
        “8”
      “9”
  “10”

You are back at the cleared space in your mind. You are rejuvenated, as you always are by a visit to your sanctuary.

Feel your breathing—in, out.…

Feel the solidity and definite shape of your body.

Feel the surfaces that are contacting and supporting your body where you are sitting or lying down.

When you’re ready, open your eyes. You feel rested, alert, energized, calm, embodied, grounded, safe, secure, assured.

You can return to your sanctuary any time you want or need. It is there, always, for you.

Are You Self-Actualized?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that we are all born to develop our gifts and strengths, and reach our fullest potential. He called this “self-actualization.”

Are you self-actualized?

If so, you:

  • Live life to the fullest
  • Work to fulfill your potential
  • Have a sense of mission or purpose in your life
  • See what is, rather than what should be
  • See problems as challenges to be solved
  • Accept yourself as you are
  • Accept others as they are
  • Accept the ways and acts of Nature as they are and as they occur
  • Exercise your creativity
  • Are spontaneous and playful, not rigid
  • Are and feel independent
  • Enjoy privacy and time alone
  • Establish and maintain loving bonds with others
  • Feel a kinship with humanity
  • Have a non-hostile sense of humor
  • Feel an ongoing appreciation of life, including the little things
  • Take and create opportunities to have “peak experiences ”

Don’t worry if you didn’t mentally check all of these, or most of them, or the coolest-sounding ones. Maslow believed that self-actualizing is the business of a lifetime, and that different aspects of self-actualization arise at different times in our lives.

The most important thing: appreciate your peak experiences. Peak experiences are times when you feel fully engaged, on top of the world, transcendent, fulfilled, at one with the way things are, expansive, at peace, joyful. Examples include climbing a mountain, winning an award, completing a work of art, watching a baby being born, connecting deeply with someone.…

Why is appreciating peak experiences so important? In the same spirit as the adage “you are what you eat,” you are what you attend to and savor and reflect on. Those moments when you are most in tune with your purpose and most in flow are moments when you are your truest self. Paying attention to, savoring, and reflecting on those moments make them yours, make them a lasting, fruitful part of your reality instead of forgotten episodes in an unread biography.

So, don’t worry if you didn’t check all the items in the above list, or most of them, or the coolest-sounding ones. Rather, take a moment now—an extended moment—to appreciate fully those accomplishments, those moments of beauty, those blessings you are fortunate to be able to include in your experience.

AD/HD Organizing Manifesto

An organizational decalogue from Madelyn Griffith-Haynie’s blog, ADDandSoMuchMore.com:

  1. Organizing for the ADDer has more in common with organizing for the physically challenged than with organizing for the non-ADDer [yes, really]
  2. All organizing must take continued FOCUS into account first [i.e. what will aid attention to where things are?]
  3. For the ADDer, ease of storage is the primary concern [function over form]
  4. All organizing must be thought of with a systems focus [think flow]
  5. All organizing must take the usage by others into account [sharing = not good]
  6. DUPLICATION is the ADDer’s friend – especially for “in order to” items [a box of tissues in every room!]
  7. When organizing for the ADDer, everything must have a home and a vacation home [i.e. a kinesthetic place and a place that makes sense for everyone else]
  8. NOTHING spends the night outside—EVER! [the “hateful half hour” every night]
  9. You must make friends with “The Penicillin Principle” [don’t reinfect cleaned spaces]
  10. Life without a broom closet is no life at all [’nuff said]

 
Organized Cats

Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

absenceacceptanceaccomplishmentADHDaimsanalysisannotationanxietyAPAappearanceappleappreciationargumentartistaskingattachmentattentionawarenessBatmanbeingblank mindblissboatboring!brainstormingbraverycandlescenter of gravitychoicechoosing collegecognitioncommunicationcompassionconclusionconfidenceconsciousnessconversationcreative writingcreativitydawdlingdiagnosisdoorsdramadreamdrinkingecologyemotionenergyessaysessentialevidenceexamexcitementexecutive functionexerciseexperienceexpositionfailurefearfeelingfightfigurationflowfootballfrederick douglassfreewritinggamegedankenexperimentgesturegetting startedgoalgrammarhappinesshealinghearthonorhopehumanideasimaginationimagination_exerciseimplexinnovationinspirationinstinctinterestjubileekinestheticknifeknowledgelogicloudlovemagicmanagemasterymeaningmechanicsmedicationmeditationmetacognitionmilitarymindmistakesMLAmothermotivationmountainnontraditional collegenote-takingnotesorganizeout-of-the-boxparticipationpartspassionpatiencepeak-experiencepedagogyperseverancepersistencephysicalizeplanplayingplaywrightingplotpoetrypositive pointingpre-writingpreferenceprepositionpresenceprioritiesprocessprocrastinationprofessorsproofreadingputteringquestionsreadingrealityreflectionrelationshiprelaxationrepresentationreservesresourcesresponseresponsibilityrevisingsanctuaryself-actualizationself-assessmentself-relianceseptembershort storysocratic methodsoulspacestorystrengthsstressstudyingsuccesssummariessynthesistalkingtasksteachingtechniquetest anxietytest-takingThanksgivingthemethesisthinkingtimetolerancetomorrowtreetrusttruthunderstandingveteransvisualizationvoicewaldorfwelcomewholewillwillpowerwomenwordsworkingwriter's blockwritingyearningyesterday

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