saol – life

Satisfying software development

As a software developer, I’m keen to maximise the satisfaction of every day work. Some parts of days feel highly satisfying, and others I feel boredom. To help myself understand the underlying triggers, I was intrigued by this figure:

Copyright Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. From book “Good Business”.

This framework is the result of decades of research. As with any framework, this is a tool for understanding, and it doesn’t and can’t cover the entire range of emotions you can feel during your life, every day, including while doing your work.

The framework, the “Map of Everyday Experience”, does teach us this lesson:

“Flow” state, characterised by focussed happiness, is possible when you are both being equally challenged and pushing the boundaries of your current skills.

This is a fantastic tool that you can use to help answer questions such as:

  • Why is it that sometimes I feel bored or apathetic, but other times I feel in “flow” or in “control”?
  • What must I do to maximise the time I experience in the top-right corner?
  • What must I do to minimise the time I experience in the bottom-left corner?
  • Is it fine to listen to podcasts while doing my work? (Nope, they’re keeping you from Flow)

“Flow” is a complicated subject, and I have not read the author’s book of the same name. In “Good Business”, he does describe the self-reinforcing focus that helps you to build the sense of flow “even in mundane ordinary things”.

Everything requires effort, and for me distractions that take away from that focus are one part of “what must I do to minimise the time I spend experiencing the bottom-left corner?”. It seems that you must bootstrap yourself to allow yourself to experience that self-reinforcing sense of focus.

The author also points to the fact that “flow” is almost like an escape mechanism, because it allows you to forget the past and future, and get lost in the present. He argues, though, that it’s a positive state, because the effect of it is growth. By practicing being in “flow”, you build your skills over time, allowing you to take on greater challenges. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback system, as Peter Senge would say in The Fifth Discipline.

Obviously related book: Deep Work by Cal Newport.