An antidote to weakness
So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to weakness. Flow is the elusive state of assimilation into a meaningful challenge or temporary bond, as your sense of time, space, and self dissolves. During the pandemic’s early days, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or vigilance—it was the flow. People who became more immersed in their projects were able to avoid vulnerability and maintain their epidemiological happiness.
The early morning word game gets me to the flow. Sometimes a late-night Netflix party does the trick too — it takes you into a story where you feel connected to the characters and worry about their well-being.
While finding new challenges, fun experiences, and purposeful work are all possible cures for weakness, it’s hard to find the flow when you can’t focus. This was a problem long before the pandemic, when people habitually checked email 74 times a day and switched tasks every 10 minutes. In the past year, many of us have also experienced interruptions from kids around the house, colleagues around the world, and bosses around the clock. Meh.
Distracted interest is the enemy of sharing and excellence. In a group of 100 people, only two or three people will be able to drive and memorize information at the same time without their performance suffering on one or both tasks. Computers can be built for parallel processing, but humans are better off with sequential processing.
Give yourself some uninterrupted time
This means that we need to set limits. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before noon. When the engineers were able to manage the limits themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as an official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.
I don’t think there is anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat the unbroken blocks of time as treasures to be protected. It eliminates constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.
Focus on a small goal
The epidemic was a great loss. To bypass weakness, try to start with small wins, such as a small victory for spotting a crime or a rush of playing a seven letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is Manageable Difficulty: a challenge that expands your skills and increases your resolve. This means making time every day to focus on a challenge that interests you – an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step towards rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.