Fighting Unproductiveness

Day 12 of 30 Days of Starting Up

Today is day #12 of my startup journey. I am experiencing a sense of void after a highly productive period. It is not uncommon. For all my life, I am looking for the flow state.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow.” I understand it as a state of being ultra-focused and tireless, to the point of forgetting to eat or sleep.

As I enter startup life, working on my dream projects, I thought the flow state would frequently come to me. It turned out to be only half true. I find flow only happens with crafty activities, such as designing, coding, or writing. It never happens when I do self-promotion or marketing. Furthermore, on the days that I did both types of activities, I can’t get into the flow at all. In an attempt to fight my unproductiveness, I start to self-diagnose why.

To enter the state of flow, it needs a few hours of ramping up. The concentration level climbs up and then stays in the flow state at its peak, maintains it for a while, and then cools down. The graph:


On days I need to self-promote or do marketing, the design/code/writing activity is divided into several segments. Each segment doesn’t have enough time to climb up high enough to reach the flow state. The graph:


I started to notice the phenomenon while I was working at my corporate job. I have meetings each day that interrupt my design time, and because I was not able to enter the state of flow, I feel tired after work. The situation was improved when I started working for my startup, but as a founder, I need to pick tasks like marketing and sales. These new challenges become the new productivity killer.

I think it may help to dedicate days to marketing/self-promotion solely. If I have some extra time on those days, I can relax and browse the Internet to find inspirations or do market research. These activities seem to go together because they have similar attention patterns. On other days, I dedicate all day to design/code/write.

Do you have more tips on fighting unproductiveness? Let me know by commenting on the newsletter. I can’t wait to hear other ideas!

Originally posted on my newsletter: https://wentin.substack.com/p/fighting-unproductiveness. I am building my product in public and share my progress daily on my newsletter. If you enjoy the content, please consider subscribe my newsletter!

  1. 2

    That is so true. Finding the flow state can be hard when you have a million things to do. I think everyone needs to try a few options to see what works best for them.

    I have found that the way I start the morning defines how my day is going to go. If I start browsing Reddit or other news sites as soon as I wake up, my day usually ends up being extremely unproductive. On the other hand, if I start with a work task, I am more productive on that day.

    And I have found leaving a task incomplete the previous day helps. Because it is nagging me, and I know where to start.

    I would suggest reading Atomic Habits by James Clear to get more productive and build habits. It has a lot of great ideas.

    1. 2

      I like the idea of leaving a task incomplete! I used to write a work log and usually, it ended with something I need to fix next to help me get back into the issue the next day, sometimes with little code snippets so I can search where it is. That work log usually only happens with coding tasks, maybe I should expand that to other activities as well! Thanks for your suggestion!

      1. 2

        Ya, the idea works for other stuff too, not just code.

        I read this article from the wired recently about how to-do lists are bad because once you get it on paper, it is like permitting yourself to forget it.

        I also have an aversion to interacting with people online. Like you, that is something I have been trying to get over. I recently read another article about the power of just showing up. So I have been trying that for the last month or so. Let's see how it goes.

        It is an exciting topic, seeing what works for different people. I have subscribed to your newsletter, looking forward to seeing your take on it.

        1. 1

          Thanks for these references! I am checking them out, super relatable and helpful!

  2. 1

    Cool post, I agree with what you wrote. Having a dozen tasks with separate scope is a concentration killer. I think in part because of all the context switching that has to happen, it is really hard to go back to the state of flow once you have stepped out of it even for a tiny fraction of time. A good example of this are random colleague interactions, while necessary, they tend to break concentration. having been working fully remotely since the pandemic started has let me see how these tiny breaks affect productivity bits by bits (although I miss working alongside other people). I think the best course of action when you REALLY need to get in the flow is to try to isolate yourself a bit.

    1. 1

      Yeah, isolation is key. I used to use noise-cancelling headphones to create isolation. It works to some degree but it won't work with slack messages, those go through inside the headphone lol!

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