Designing My Life: Energy, Engagement and Flow, or lack thereof

“Blog Post 9”. That’s what this has been entitled for weeks. 9 has been sitting in My Documents, staring at me, unfinished, for over a month. I’ve written and rewritten it, read it and walked away countless times. And, finally, yesterday, I had a breakthrough. Not in writing, but in subject matter. Eureka!

For those of you joining me for the first time, this is my fourth post in the “Designing My Life” series. It is my journey through the book and exercises of Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The concept is to use design principles to find your way in life, even if you are not in design as a profession. And in fact, Bill and Dave have been teaching a wildly popular course at the Stanford Life Design Lab for years.

If you expect to pick up the book, read it in one sitting, and have an Aha! Moment, you will be disappointed. The exercises in Designing Your Life are not easy and it is a process. Hence why I have struggled with Chapter 3: Wayfinding and my Good Time Journal, The concept of the GTJ is to catalog what you do on a daily basis, for several days or weeks, to note how energized and engaged you feel. In particular, looking for times you may be in flow. Flow is the superlative of Energized and Engaged. If you are not familiar, check out the authority and origin.

This is when I got stumped. My daily routine includes job hunting, networking, nagging my teenagers to clean their rooms, walking the dog, and making as little effort at housework as possible. Not a ton of energizing or engaging tasks there. If we examine how much time it takes to get the Flexible Spending Plan to pay the orthodontist bill, I run the risk of a rant. Suffice it to say it is sub-zero, negative flow.

But you know, with me, you will always get a silver lining. Bill & Dave note, albeit briefly, that sometimes we are not in a place where we can realistically document our activities. My current state being a prime example. The recommendation is to look back on some of your greatest work moments, those times when things were great and you would have wanted to keep that job forever, and examine that.

I did this. More than once. I journaled on this topic for weeks. In the end, the list of things that energize me includes lots of excel (ahem, “analysis”), brainstorming, power point, and fiddling with ideas and plans. I like thinking and putting my thoughts on paper. (Blogging, anyone?) Outside of my own forays into writing, I like quantifying and structuring those thoughts and figuring out a plan to build, or fix, or change whatever it is I’m thinking about. In my work life I refer to myself as a “strategist” and my observations during this exercise would support that.

And finally, yesterday, after leaving this blog post languishing in Drafts, I found myself in Flow. Quick, M, observe! Using the A-E-I-O-U method let’s evaluate:

  • Activity: Creating a Wattpad book cover, editing a chapter, evaluating tags for popular works, posting, then creating my daily #todayssimplepleasure post for Instagram – It was independent, unstructured, and comprehensive – not just one facet of the task (posting a new chapter), but the end-to-end process of putting myself out there on the internet for the world to see
  • Environment: My couch in my house (specifically, the corner of the couch – the best seat in the house!)
  • Interactions: I was barely interacting with my family, which was fine since there was a basketball game on. I managed to wheedle a glass of water out of my son so I wouldn’t have to get up and break flow.
  • Objects: laptop, smartphone, and earbuds for listening to pandora
  • Users: my family was with me, and my dog, which made it better, even with limited interactions

When I woke this morning, I was thinking about 9 and with my newfound Flow experience emboldening me, I sat down to finish. The process of designing my life may happen in fits and starts, yet it is proving to be a fun and useful way to spend my time. Blog Post 10 – here we come…!

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