Recreating the state of "Airplane Flow"
Factors to achieve optimal level of discomfort for productivity
Nabeel had a recent tweetstorm about how he’s way more productive in airports…
I too am way more productive in a cramped seat in economy on a six-hour flight cross-country (before traveling with kids that is). Nabeel provides a bunch of factors that help (e.g., lack of options, no internet) and this inspired me to start experimenting a bit with this over the last few days at work. How might I find ways of achieving “optimal level of discomfort” for productivity?
Long story short: I was able to recreate some good “airplane-level productivity” by tweaking my work environment. Here is my formula:
Set a clear chunk of time
Plane rides have clear starts and ends - you can’t go forever which helps calm you down - “this state of affairs is not forever”: 30 minutes, 2 hours, 6 hours, whatever... Just tell yourself clearly when you’re OK to stop.
Simulate bad internet / no internet
Put your phone far away (ideally not even in the same room); close email, chat, twitter and anything else that other humans can use to talk to you; turn off wifi. If you have an idea and want to share with someone else, write it down for later and don’t break the wall as long as possible. Combine this all with offline mode for gmail & docs / paper books / print-outs / notepads, etc.
Load up on some average-tasting caffeine
A semi-burned dark coffee roast from Starbucks of Peets narrows your focus and kickstarts the process. Airport brews are perfectly terrible and luckily, it’s easy to find bad coffee everywhere!
Get a medium-level of comfort chair & table
An average hard chair with a boring table is perfect. Again, lucky for us, these exist everywhere!
Don’t be too hydrated
Airplane cabins dehydrate - I think this helps maintain an uninterrupted flow. If you have to go to the bathroom all the time, you can’t fully get into “the zone.” So leave that gallon water bottle at home.
Simulate airplane-background noise
“Brown-noise” is the technical term for this sound. It’s not grating like white noise - and it’s been shown to help with focus by pacifying a lot of background mental chatter. You can find it on Spotify, YouTube, etc.
Find ways of simulating “subtle peer pressure” from passerbys
Being completely isolated can be too daunting. You need an environment where other people are also doing things in a focused mode; you want to simulate the feeling that just goofing off would be subtly looked-down upon - there’s an ambient level of judgment going on (although very subtle). Think coffee shop.
Do not have interesting things around you - choose a boring view
Banal environments are great for this: parking lots, strip malls… A white wall can also be great for the more hardcore among you. But cool things are too distracting. In other words, don’t go for the cool coffee shop or gorgeous library full of interesting books. Instead try to achieve “average strip-mall Peets Coffee” level of bland (luckily for us this is also very common!)
Have clear tasks that would benefit from “narrow focus”
Airplane setups aren’t necessarily great for the next inspirational big idea (although that might happen) - for that you might want to try “a beautiful inspirational walk in the woods.” All of these suggestions are much better for executing through large amounts of pre-planned work that you’ve been procrastinating on that requires very focused attention.
When you combine these 9 ingredients: magic.
Here is me this morning mixing these ingredients into an optimally discomfortable work environment at the YouTube offices: perfectly caffeinated, hard chair + table, staring at a parking lot, brown noise around me, ambiently surrounded by other busy humans, wifi off, tasks at the ready:
Happy travels #💺✈️🎧