Hustle and flow

By Francisco Dao , written on October 31, 2013

From The News Desk

I have a good friend who, in an attempt to look productive and important, is constantly tweeting and posting about how hard he’s hustling. Not only are his boasts painfully transparent, but sadly, his ideas about what makes someone effective are usually just plain wrong. For example, a few days ago he posted a motivational video with the following quotes:

"If you're going to be successful, you gotta be willing to give up sleep..." and " gotta want to be successful so bad you forgot to eat" -- that's for real. 
This is flat out ridiculous. How can someone possibly perform at their best if they’re not sleeping and forgetting to eat? If you’re the CEO or a manager at your company, do you want your employees coming into work exhausted and starving? Do you think anyone can do quality work while they’re in such a condition? Of course not. And yet my friend is not alone in buying into the “crushed and crushing it” mentality of work.

Amongst entrepreneurs it’s become a badge of honor to talk about how many hours they’re working, how inbox zero is a fantasy because they’re too slammed, how “you can sleep when you’re dead,” and various other claims about “hustling 24/7.” When you cut through the bluster, what these people are really saying is, “I don’t know how to work efficiently and effectively, and I’m also not taking care of myself.” Pro-tip: poor work and health habits are not something you want to be bragging about.

On a serious note, I’d like to introduce the idea of “flow” and help put an end to the belief that working yourself past the point of exhaustion is somehow the best way to get things done. I’m sure you’ve heard the term before, probably while watching sports, but most people don’t think much about it and definitely don’t adopt it in their own work habits.

Where generic hustle is often frenetic for no reason, and always exhausting and unsustainable, flow is a more natural state of elevated activity. For example, in basketball, desperate teams will sometimes implement a full court defense during crunch time, diving for loose balls and running furiously after passes. Occasionally, this kind of hustle turns the tide of the game but teams can never keep up the pace for more than quarter.

In contrast, flow is what you see when a well coached team performs as a cohesive unit with a steady rotation of properly rested players. Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time, was known to manage his playing time and rest accordingly so he could be at his peak in the closing minutes of the game. He didn’t play to exhaustion and he certainly didn’t show up to the arena sleep deprived and hungry.

Part of the reason we get seduced by hustle is, in the absence of actual flow, activity feels good. It feels right. It feels like we’re doing something, regardless of how poor our actual productivity might be. Furthermore, very few of us have had the luxury of learning our own state of flow. Everything we’ve done has been based on someone else’s demands. We followed our school’s demands, our parents’ demands, our boss’s demands. We never learned to work according to our own needs.

Flow is different for every person and entails both physical and mental pacing. It doesn’t necessarily have to feel like a drug induced high, but finding your personal rhythm and state of flow will allow you to work more effectively instead of just harder. When in the proper state, thinking and decision making should come easy, and your work should feel effortless. You might find yourself staying up late because you’re more comfortable working at night, but you’re not giving up sleep just to show the world how much of a hustler you are. Claiming the raw number of hours you put in, or the amount of sleep you missed, as an indication of how serious you are just makes you look like an amateur.

If you really want to get things done, forget about the crushing hours and relentless hustle. Figure out how to work in flow, and you’ll likely produce better results in less time while taking better care of your health in the long run. Isn’t that a much better way to work?

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]