Academic Writing Hacks Part 4: Cafe Surfing and Flow

N.B., all the posts in this series were planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your priority at this time should be staying safe. If you happen to have time for writing, then these tips may help. If not, bookmark this and come back to it later when the world has calmed down and we have conquered this virus.

In my earlier posts I talked about setting up a writing schedule or finding a time of day to write that suits you and your brain. However, sometimes we all just having looming deadlines we need to meet and we need to spend a solid day or two on a single writing project.

What do you do then?

For this, we need to harness the power of flow. Flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter

I found the video linked below a great introduction to flow.

As this video suggests (at around 6:10), there are five triggers to creating flow

  1. Risk
  2. Novelty
  3. Complexity
  4. Unpredictability 
  5. Pattern Recognition

This blog post describes flow and provides some great tips on achieving it.

For me, the best thing is triggering novelty. So, typically I would start writing in the morning (either at my desk at home or in my office on campus). Then, after lunch, my brain can’t handle any more writing. What I would do then was pick up my laptop and head out to a cafe. I would order a coffee, put on my sound cancelling headphones, and trick my brain into thinking this was a completely different day and I was ready to write again. This way I would squeeze an extra hour or two of writing out of my day when I normally wouldn’t.

For me, cafe surfing was a great way of getting novelty in my day and triggering flow. But right now we’re all confined to our homes. No cafe surfing allowed (thanks, COVID-19). The way I’ve been coping with this is by starting my day on my desktop computer at home. After lunch, I brew myself a coffee, pick up my laptop, and start writing on the sofa. I’ve moved somewhere else (in my tiny one bedroom apartment) to trigger the novelty aspect. But also, this is a pattern my brain recognises: Alessa gets a coffee in the afternoon, picks up her laptop, and changes location. Therefore, it is time to write.

Have you come across flow before? How do you trigger it?

This is the last post in this series for now. I have plenty more writing tips but I’ll save those for future posts in a few months’ time.

— Alessa Teunisse

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