Floating

I recently read a great essay by Tim Urban at WaitButWhy on beating procrastination. (I found it, as you may have recently, via this great reading list.) Among the illustrative images, one thing stood out to me, here:

The Dark Woods - Credit: waitbutwhy.com
The Dark Woods – Credit: waitbutwhy.com

This image is used to build an analogy for beating procrastination, in which one must forgo guilty leasure in the “Dark Playground” by entering the “Dark Woods”, a path representing work and accomplishment. If one can make it all the way through the dark woods and complete the task without being enticed back into the leisure of the dark playground, one reaches the “Happy Playground”, a place of well-earned, satisfying leisure.

However, there is an alternative: Flow. As Urban puts it,

You occasionally even end up super-engaged with what you’re working on and enter a state of Flow, where you’re so blissfully immersed in the task that you lose track of time.

Flow is a fantastic thing: hugely productive and fulfilling. Just as the Dark Woods are surrounded by the Dark Playground, meaning that one is constantly enticed by the ability to quit the task at hand and return to procrastination, the Flow path is surrounded by the Happy Playground; it is possible to break out of flow at any point and enjoy your accomplishments.

However, I found it telling that the end of the Flow path wasn’t pictured. I’ve found that just as the Dark Woods can escape from the Dark Playground, the Flow path can “escape” from the Happy Playground. At that point it no longer feels like an option to just quit and relax. You’re *accomplishing* things! Leisure time would just be a *waste*. The Flow path also continues to spread out, becoming less focused, less productive. Eventually, you end up at a point where you’re no longer in Flow, you’re just *Floating* (or “Flowting”, if you like).

I see Floating as the flip-side of the procrastination coin. When you procrastinate, you know you should be working, but your instincts betray you and cause you to seek out unfulfilling entertainment instead. When you’re Floating, you know you’re no longer being productive and you should take a break, but now your instincts are telling you that you can’t waste time; you have to keep pushing, keep working.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a correlation between susceptibility to procrastination and Floating. One of the aggravating factors of the Floating state is the knowledge that a period of beneficial rest could ultimately lead to procrastination. Given their similarities, perhaps the remedies are similar as well. Perhaps the solution to Floating is structured recreation. I’m not sure. I do know it’s a real issue though. Perhaps now that I have something to call it, it will become easier to recognize and combat.