hyper focus vs. flow

2020-03-12

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~2 min read

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280 words

On a recent episode of The 6-Figure Developer Podcast, Matthew Jones came on to talk about distracted developers and strategies for coping.

The entire conversation is worth a listen, but one part really stood out as I felt very seen. It was the distinction between flow, that state so many folks strive to get into (Cal Newport is a notable exception) and a new term to me: hyper-focus.

Matthew drew the following distinction between the two:

  1. Flow is the state of mind which induces a desire to finish the task at hand
  2. Hyper-focus is the state which induces a compulsion to

He claims that the distinction is subtle (it’s only different by one word), but I’d argue it’s anything but subtle. As someone who apparently “suffers” from hyper-focus it’s disastrous.

One of the best things you can do when you’re stuck on a problem is to walk away. Hyper-focus prevents that. It’s why on numerous occasions, I’ve gotten so sucked into work that I’ve missed dinner or stayed up all night - tweaking and tinkering. It’s why my wife doesn’t trust (and shouldn’t) that I can wrap up a project when I say “just five more minutes”

Pomodoro is one strategy that I’ve employed for the better part of a year to help with this - but even then, if I miss a timer and forget to set a new one… there’s no telling when I’ll look up again.

I’d never heard of hyper-focus before. I have no idea if it’s a “real” thing. What I do know is that I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. And now, knowing it’s name, I can deal with it head on.


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!