Productivity systems as we know of nowadays is sucking the vitality out of our human existence. At the cost of optimization, and at the cost of being allowed to measure work more easily on the basis of KPIs and what-not, we are slowly becoming a robot or a slave.
Let me explain.
Whenever productivity can be measured clearly, as with the number of cards that come out of an assembly line, or the number of boxes that can be dropped in an assembly line etc, the work becomes more and more repetitive and boring. If it could be measured, it is coming at a price of dehumanisation.
But what do we have as an alternative? Are we going against measurement now?
In this article, I want to talk about a very contrarian perspective on productivity. Instead of measuring and optimizing productivity, how about we channel it with our mood?
Before that, let me take you through a short segway to the fascinating philosophy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This hungarian philosopher investigates the psychological link between happiness and productivity through the concept of flow.
Flow is that optimal spot you attain when your skill level and the challenge matches. Just like how you play a game, and the skill level and complexity increases with each level. If it gets too easy, you get bored and lose focus. If it gets too difficult, you get anxious and quit playing. Both are not 'productive'. Therefore, achieving flow, helps achieve productivity.
You could see this in gamers who sit for long hours in a 'session' streaming their gameplay, defeating the villains and still interacting with their fans at the same time. Your mental state is flowing like a river, completely immersed in the action.
This correlation between happiness and productivity makes a lot of sense to me. And thats also why I think, analyzing our mental states help us better understand our nature to be productive.
Coming back to our original case of improving our productivity systems, I believe that creative work today is dictated less by values, goals, processes and more by your unique states of your mind.
Tiago Forte talks about the spectrum of our mental states and how we could use it to harness productivity. It ranges from ennui, nostalgia, transcendence, optimal drunkenness, motivated curiosity, petrichor after-rain smell, eustress, revenge etc.
Epicurus, the ancient greek philosopher who founded Epicureanism, retired to live in a forest and wrote around 300 books in spiteful revenge against the existing greek schools of Plato and Aristotle. An example of how envy was catalyzed in a productive way.
Petrichor, the after-rain smell of mud inspires you to write a poem.
Eustress (positive stress) helps you push yourself to complete your tasks before the deadline.
Let me cite my own personal examples.
When I feel really sad, I sometimes use busywork as a coping mechanism for avoiding that painful feeling. And you get into a state of flow, and forget about everything else. This is an example of how I am using the momentum of our emotions to drive work forward.
Now, how do we streamline our mental states?
How do we piggyback on those mental states, and better harness our current mood?
Enter Theme Songs.
Do you get a sensation of time travel whenever you listen to a particular album that you had once listened to on repeat?
The song makes it easier to drift away from the present. Listening on repeat also helps in re-creating the exact flow state. Imagine Dragons Smoke and Mirrors Album drifts me back to Toronto 2015 Summer.
I am replicating this effect but for helping me enter specific mental flow states for my projects.
And whenever I listen to that theme song, I am drifting away.
Drifting away to that particular mood and work.
Theme songs are helping me get to that flow state.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., Abuhamdeh, S., & Nakamura, J. (2014). Flow. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 227-238). Springer, Dordrecht.
Coviello, D., Deserranno, E., Persico, N., & Sapienza, P. (2017). Effect of mood on workplace productivity.