I just put my 14 month old son down to sleep and was thinking my exhausted wife might be tricked into sleeping with him. I thought this would be a good way to get her some rest (she resists sleeping for reasons I can’t understand). My ulterior motive was that if she sleeps with him, he will sleep longer, maybe two hours, and that means I can do some software development.

You see, without at least an hour or two, I don’t get into flow.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

If you are not a developer, you probably won’t understand it. It is why I am skeptical of remote work being perfect fit anyone but single introverts. This cartoon tells the story perfectly.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

You can’t do that in five minutes. And, you can’t get into it if you worry constantly you’ll be interrupted at any moment.

But, a few minutes ago my wife got called into her on-call shift at the hospital. Now, I hover outside our room as our son sleeps in the bed. For several minutes I watched him sleep restlessly. It looks like he will wake up any minute.

I feel frustrated that I can’t grab my laptop and start hacking. There is no greater frustration than getting an idea flowing in your brain, begin to work on it, feel the pieces clicking together like a Lego structure, and then hear the cry of your son pulling you out of that blissful state to save him from falling off the bed. I love my son and I miss these dedicated spaces for pure creativity.

I find myself being frustrated often as my life circumstances have changed radically. With my wife working as a doctor I find myself reacting to the baby needs and to her work realities. My life is no longer planned as much as accepted chaos.

But, I know that happiness comes from recognizing the beauty behind my own misperceptions. There must be things that I can do to still be a creative person and have those experiences of building something.

What pieces of the development process don’t require flow? Writing software itself is not possible with a random five minute space. But, writing tests are.

Writing tests are finite. Tests should be isolated pieces of functionality and don’t require thinking about a huge interaction. Testing is a good place to focus my efforts when all I have is an unknown amount of time. I don’t think I could write rspec tests from my mobile device but I could write calabash tests. With support of a CI server and github hook, there might be something fun to do in that spare random time.

What else? Art work? Identity? Sending one marketing email to promote an idea? Maybe having a child forces me to expand my comfort zone and do things that don’t require flow and that are required parts of building real businesses. That idea gives me excited pause: I see new life in possibility instead of the death of my identity as a developer and entrepreneur that follows me everywhere.

No cries yet. Just silence to think about my new life. It is raining outside here in Portland but I can see sunshine on my horizon.