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Flow State: Hack Productivity Through Parkinson’s Law

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Can we achieve flow state and hack productivity using Parkinson’s Law? I think we can. In fact, I’m going to put a deadline on my writing of this article for a real-time example. But first, we need to define Parkinson’s Law.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available. I’ve found that to apply to closets and drawers too. The more space you have the more the inclination to fill that space, be it a physical space or a space of time.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Aristotle coined the phrase, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’, horror vacui” in Greek. says, “It turns out nature really can’t stand a perfect vacuum‘, and this Greek phrase is known to be especially applicable to visual arts as well. [1]

However… we should always question certainties. Consider Zen gardens. The point of Zen is space. But I digress. Back on point to the concept of constraints (time and space), and flow state.

Table of Contents

Audio Article: Flow State

My Flow State Experiment

It’s 11:09 am on a Friday.

I’ve started rewriting this article half a dozen times while also researching Parkinson’s Law and wondering if—after almost an hour—I should scrap the project altogether or start over. We should note it’s not just any Friday, it also July 13th.

While I’m not the superstitious sort, my mind still makes the false correlations that the date indeed has massive effects on my lack of flow state production.

What if I were to force myself to finish this first draft within 1 hour? Starting now. I’ve begun a timer and it’s 11:14 am.

Parkinson’s Law states that:
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Can we hack productivity and achieve flow state using Parkinson's Law? I think we can. In fact, I'm going to put a deadline on my writing for a real example.

Deadlines and Doing The Work

There’s nothing like constraints, deadlines, and non-negotiable tasks to snap us into gear.

Journalists know this. Their job depends on how many quality stories they can produce consistently and on a deadline. They have no time for dithering or delaying progress.

And they certainly can’t argue with the committee in their head about how if they cleaned their garage it will calm their mind enough to write. They just write because they must.

Creative constraints encourage productivity and creativity and provide a launchpad for ideas.
~Devani Alderson,®

Constraints and Creative Freedom

That sounds ambiguous doesn’t it? How can constraints and freedom go together in an agreeable sentence? It turns out that they do.

There’s a wonderful book titled A Beautiful Constraint, which is practically a textbook on how constraint actually helps creativity.

On our podcast interview with Jay Acunzo, host of the Unthinkable podcast, Jay also talked about how creative freedom can hinder us and how having boundaries provides a launching pad for our ideas.

As the Ernest Hemingway quote so eloquently and earnestly informs us:

“Writing is the art of applying the butt to the seat.”
~Ernest Hemingway, journalist, novelist, 1899-1961

Daily Discipline

Hemingway’s point applies to any form of creative endeavor, a project we want to finish, and life goals. We must just start, whether it means sitting down to write, putting paint to canvas, or dusting off the instruments for a jam session.

We end all our articles and emails for iCreateDaily with, “The Day is the Way.”

This is an intentional reminder and focusing invocation for us all, that today, here, now, is where the work begins. Starting is the most important first step, then developing the daily habits that sustain our growth, until we succeed.

Hacking Productivity Through Parkinson’s Law

In researching a bit of history behind Parkinson’s Law, I learned that it was possibly derived from the “Ideal Gas Law” which is about how “gas fills the volume allocated.”  This fascinated me and lead to the correlation of ideas as vapor. Imagine your idea as a vapor, the deadline is your container, and the time allowed is the size.[2][3]

If the deadline to finish your book is “someday,” you can easily picture how the vaporous idea spreads thin and far.  Someday isn’t a day. There’s no constraint… it would be like blowing smoke outside.  It evaporates and your initial idea begins to fade into the shadows of some vague memory of a dream.

So instead, you set goals with deadlines.

Goals Set the Stage for Flow State

  1. I will finish my book in the 3rd Quarter of the year.
  2. My first draft will be done by July 31st
  3. The final edit will be done September 30th.

You’ve now created a container of time and sense of urgency for your idea. Take it one step further and calculate the approximate word count and divide by the number of days to give yourself a daily word goal to reach. Now you have a serious writing goal with daily milestones and defined results.

“A deadline combined with goal-oriented action creates momentum.”
~ Devani Anjali Alderson;

In researching a bit of history behind Parkinson's Law, I learned that it was possibly derived from the "Ideal Gas Law" which is how "gas fills the volume allocated."  This fascinated me and lead to the correlation of ideas as vapor. Imagine the idea as a vapor, the deadline is your container, and time allowed is the size.

In the Flow With the Pro Mindset

I disagree with the notion of waiting for ideas “to come”.  I’ve found Parkinson’s Law to be true for me. The more I set a goal and a deadline, then show up ready to do the work, the more I experience the flow state.

Flow state thrives on the commitment to do the thing. It is the habit of creating daily that makes all the difference.

If we’re going to swim, we need to do more than get wet; we need to immerse in the water. We can’t swim by dipping our toe in. It’s the same with creativity. To swim in the sea of ideas, requires immersion. And the more you immerse, the more you can swim.

World famous author of fiction and non-fiction, Steven Pressfield, writes about the muse and the creation of flow state. Pressfield uses writing rituals supported by commitment, dedication, consistency and perseverance to create the structure for success.

We achieve flow state through productivity and we produce the best through repetitive effort.
~Devani Alderson,®

Grit and Flow

I get it. Creating something from scratch that never existed before now, is hard and takes grit to finish.  Producing consistent work over time is much like working out.  The more you work out, the better you feel and the more you want to exercise.

But at first, it’s just hard work and you don’t really see immediate results. However, as you start producing more work, you feel proud of the consistency and output, which inspires you to continue your momentum of creation.

The key is starting, and sometimes we need a nudge (or full shove ?) in the right direction.  Using the Parkinson’s Law concept of creating parameters is a good way to develop a system to get you rolling in creating and producing.

Flow state is the most powerful when you invoke it through intention and effort.
~ Devani Anjali Alderson,®

My Flow State Result

So you may recall that I gave myself an hour to finish the first draft of this article. As of this sentence, It’s now been 36 minutes and 15 seconds.

Of course, by the time you’re reading the published article will have gone through editing, graphics, and the audio reading adding a couple more hours to the final content creation. But now a solid first draft is done in about half the time it would’ve taken me.

Before applying the constraint of a deadline my thoughts were floating and unfocused.

The Verdict

Setting goals and deadlines absolutely work to help keep you on task, productive and in the flow state. Next time you find yourself at a loss for words, or ideas, or brush strokes… try a deadline.

If you sit down only to discover that all of your clamorous ideas are suddenly playing hide and seek… and you’re the seeker, this article on artist blocks should help.

More on Creating Flow State

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Creativity, Innovation and Managing Flow

World renowned expert on creativity and flow state as well as author of the book by that name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You can enjoy his talk in this 20 minute video. We’ve also written more about the flow concept as your zone of genius here.

Sir Ken Robinson on Flow as the Element

We also love Sir Ken Robinson’s talks and books. All creators who read this immediately recognize that Ken understands the creative heart, mind and soul.

Steven Kotler on Finding Flow State

But, don’t take my word for it. ?

If you want to learn more about the benefits of flow state, you’ll benefit by this excellent interview on the London Real Show with Steven Kotler.

As coauthor with Peter Diamandis, Steven is one of the leading experts on the topic of neuroscience and how it relates to finding flow.

Time slows down. Self vanishes. Action and Awareness merge. Welcome to Flow.
~Steven Kotler, American author, journalist, entrepreneur, born-5/25/1967

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