Sunday, March 12, 2006


The bar printer is disgorging ticket after ticket, our bar is wrapped two deep, even the usually unflappable Ian is breaking a sweat, and it's only six-twenty.

It stays that way until nine. I can't leave the well, I can't run trash, bustubs, anything, because I'm hip-deep in alligators and running out of house vodka.

We never got weeded, just extremely busy. It reminded me of a post I just made to AskMetaFilter the other day:

...sometimes when the place is hopping I'll find myself grinning unconsciously because I'm enjoying work so much. It's like there are a thousand little detailed lists in my head, each linked to a specific guest or task, and they get shuffled around and rearranged automatically to accommodate where I am in the various processes. When it's all working right, I'll be moving with what seems to me to be preternatural efficiency, without having to hurry. I'm looking three to five tickets ahead, fetching bottles and glasses and consolidating shakers while carrying on four different conversations with customers, all the while communicating with the waitstaff and making multiple drinks simultaneously, both hands always in motion, always knowing exactly where everything is and what to reach for next. It's really exhilarating.

When it doesn't work, then I'm in the weeds, and I have to focus on tasks sequentially to work my way out of the hole.

It isn't something I can automatically conjure up. It just happens, and I usually don't even know it has happened until business tails off and I have a second to stand still. It's a rush, it's like a drug.

I've discussed this with a regular customer who happens to be a surgeon. He said he had experienced similar states when performing complicated operations. It's not a "zone", because that sort of implies that your mind is turned off or is somehow on cruise control, and it's not "focus" because that implies attention to detail, when in fact it is awareness of detail without needing to give attention to it. It's like pulling back from a part of an image to a distance that allows you to see the whole thing in one encompassing glance. It's like looking at jigsaw puzzle pieces jumbled in a box and already knowing where they all go, how it all fits together.

I've noticed that it is much more difficult to get into this mode when business is slow -- all the stopping and starting seems to inhibit the process. That's why I love the busy nights. Flow, and cash-flow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out a book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, that's a mouthful) called Flow. It's not exactly gripping reading, but he does talk about exactly the feeling you mention, and says that it's about the best thing imaginable.

I agree, I get like that when coding or driving, sometimes.