Saturday, December 27, 2014

The paradox of work

He calls it the paradox of work.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people report more flow at work than during leisure, yet they're much more likely to wish they were somewhere else while at work than while at leisure. In other words, most of us don't like being at work, even though we're actually happier there. Funny.

We obviously don't know ourselves very well, or what makes us happy. And according to Csikszentmihalyi, that's flow--that state of being focussed on a task just challenging enough to match our current mastery. It brings order to our consciousness, he says, and leads to the feeling of enjoyment.

For me, the concept of flow solves a dilemma I've been mulling over for several months. I'm a big fan of Tim Ferris (4-Hour Workweek), who advocates spending as little time as possible at work so you can enjoy more leisure time. But I'm also a fan of Seth Godin (Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us), who says there's no reason to worry about boundaries between work and personal life if you find your passion and fulfilment in your work.

These two seemed to contradict each other until I noticed how Ferriss spends his leisure time: he systematically masters activities like kickboxing, tango dancing, Japanese language, and gourmet cooking. Both Ferriss and Godin are simply advocating filling your time with flow experiences.

The take home message is this: Don't spend your time doing something that's not challenging and enjoyable. Either find ways to find flow in what you currently have to do, or do something else.

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