the flow state

December 1, 2008

I’m learning that I have two different operating modes when it come to productivity. The first is GTD — getting things done — mode. This happens when I am cranking through my tasks list, responding to emails or making calls. There is great satisfaction in seeing my to-do list dwindle, and I can feel stress lifting even as I am engaged in GTD mode.

The second is more elusive, but I’ll call it creative mode. In one of the most helpful take-away’s from The Now Habit, Neil Fiore describes this mode:

For you to work creatively, and very rapidly, the critical and logical functions of our brain (generally attributed to the left hemisphere) must be temporarily suspended to allow the creative functions (generally attributed to the right hemisphere) to start the flow of ideas and inspiration that you need.

Reading Fiore’s thoughts helped me to clarify the uniqueness of these two different modes. Both are based on output. But the state of mind for each, and the results, are very different. GTD mode is valuable, but it’s primary purpose is to make the space to be in creative mode. GTD mode tends to be outward focused, and as Fiore describes, it is left-brained. It looks at what expectations are weighing on me and meets them.

Creative mode is inward focused. It is a matter of being in tune with my soul to let my natural creative processes emerge. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes it this way:

All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive — but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.

Fiore uses a different term to describe creative mode; he calls it the flow state. This captures what Cameron describes above. It is about connecting with the right side of the brain, with my own creativity, rather than forcing it out. The latter section of The Now Habit describes how to engage with the flow state. It begins with a two minute process called focusing “for shifting rapidly to the flow state by replacing guilt and stress with a stress-free focus on the present.”

Fiore gives several helpful exercises. They alone make the book worthwhile, but I find that just the awareness of the flow state has been helpful for me. Designating times for GTD vs creating is important and I make time for both. But the latter is not just an appointment to make in my calendar. It comes when I take the time to slow down, to quiet the external demands, and to listen to my soul.

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