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Dams are only for rivers

I am an advocate for carving out chunks of time during your day and dedicating them to specific tasks I want to accomplish, like write a blog post, write thousand words for my book, workout at the gym, play football, read a book, write a product spec, design a user flow, meet users, etc.

I've been doing this for over two years now and it has been immensely helpful in ensuring I get around to doing each of these things and not get caught up in other things that aren't as important like hitting inbox zero, or watching the latest episode of Game Of Thrones.

But doing this is only going to take me half way to where I want to be. It is an extremely effective tool to ensure that I get started on things and cultivate habits and maintain consistency. But getting started doesn't mean that I'll end up doing a good job. Students are forced to attend classes by a mandate on minimum attendance criteria, some companies mandate minimum working hours in office for their employees by investing in a swipe-in / swipe-out system to monitor the coming and going of their employees. Sure, this will get people to where they are expected to be, physically, but that's only half the battle.

The bigger challenge is in bringing about a state of flow. A river flows all along it's course until it hits an obstacle that stops the flow (like a dam) or until it merges with the sea (end product). It doesn't take little breaks and detours that are contrary to the flow.

I face two major challenges in reaching that state of flow. The first is in the various distractions. The smartphone constantly calls for attention by popping up notifications. This has been fairly easy to handle. I only have notifications for calls now and nothing else. The rest, I will get around to when I am not in flow.

The second has been a trickier one. While carving out chunks of time has been essential to bring in consistency to the things I want to do, the problem is that the chunk is well-defined. That is, if I have carved out a two hour blog for writing a thousand words, I'm inadvertently imposing two bounds on my creative work - two hours and a thousand words.

There have been many instances where I spend the first ninety minutes of that block in spurts of typing words and scratching them out, only to get into a flow of writing something meaningful towards the final half hour of the chunk. The moment I hit the end of the chunk of time that's carved out, I begin to start thinking about the next thing that I'm supposed to start on and I either stop what I'm doing and start on that or lose the flow for my current task and have to rediscover it.

This is counter-productive.

So, I no longer have a hard bound on the end of the chunk. And I often create overlapping chunks of time for my tasks. If I find myself hitting the flow in one of them, I simply continue and spill over to the next. Because, ultimately, I know that there is a physical hard bound and I can't go on writing or playing football for hours and hours. I will run out of energy at some point and lose my flow. Like the river. But while I'm flowing, I'm not building a dam.

I can't hoard this energy and hope to bring it out again later when I need to. I have to see through to the logical end of the flow I'm in.

And that has been the most productive way to work. Because, I've come to see that dams are only for rivers, and not for the way we do deep work.

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