I have already written a post on Flow – but it is such a fascinating topic!
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow – time seems to slow down, your sense perceptions are heightened – colours are sharper and brighter and sounds seem to ripple right through you. Your mind shifts into a new space. A sense of vibrant aliveness, connectedness and peace infuse your being. You feel in tune with life, moving with a precision and poise you don’t fully understand but at the same time relish in. You’re in the zone. You’re in the flow. Already you can’t wait till the next time you will experience it —that feeling you had when your body and mind were completely attuned and connected.
Some of us experience it while listening to music, watching a beautiful sunset, working in the garden, holding a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend. These are moments in which your mind becomes entirely absorbed in the activity. You forget yourself and your actions become effortless, fluid, with a sense of heightened awareness of the here and now. Time seems to slow down and you experience heightened perceptions.’
Flow is a state of mind that’s inherent to all of us. It’s called the flow state and is the greatest productivity booster out there, better than any app. Alternatively known as being in the zone, the flow is a term from positive psychology, coined by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It means that you are fully immersed in your current activity. Your focus is sharp, so awareness and activity merge, making you able to achieve much more than in your usual state of mind.
The flow state is the key to ultimate productivity, increased work satisfaction, boosted creativity and, ultimately, personal and professional happiness. In the long run, it is a method to beat your own tendencies to constantly switch between tabs and get distracted that drive you to exhaustion and burnout.
Flow is one of the keys to happiness at work, and a nice side benefit is that it not only reduces stress but increases your productivity.
When you’re in the state of Flow, you:
- completely focused on the task at hand
- forget about yourself, about others, about the world around you
- lose track of time
- feel happy and in control
- become creative and productive
I do love the concept of being completely in the moment, focusing completely on a single task and finding a sense of calm and happiness in your work. Flow is exactly that.
The ability to single task is the key to productivity. True productivity is getting key things done rather than answering a bunch of emails, making a lot of phone calls, attending a bunch of meetings, and shuffling paperwork all day long. It means closing key deals. It means quality instead of quantity. Once you’ve learned to focus on those kinds of important projects and tasks, Flow is how you get them done. You lose yourself in those important and challenging tasks, and instead of being constantly interrupted by minor things, you can focus on the tasks long enough to complete them. By losing yourself in them, you enjoy yourself more. You reduce stress while increasing quality output. You get important stuff done instead of just getting things done. You achieve things rather than just keeping busy.
Flow also known as being in the zone. It is the mental state when a person is fully immersed in a feeling of focus of activity. During flow people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity and total involvement in life. Mihaly (who I mentioned in the earlier post) encourages us to muster enough energy to do what we know we should do.
- Immerse yourself in the task using all your brain energy on the task at hand. Don’t break your flow. Do nothing but that one task, don’t switch to another task. Plug in headphones if you need to – it will help keep you focused.
- Take a break – pick a time frame for immersion, but take a quick 5-10-minute break to refresh when you hit your time limit. For example, 30 minutes earns a 5-10-minute break.
- Clear mental clutter – Look at your to-do list, decide what you will do today and schedule it. When the subconscious mind doesn’t know when it will complete a task it will interrupt our flow state. Our mind is trying to plan to get it done so we can focus on something else. Knowing what you have accomplished and what you hope to accomplish next engages you.
- No focus, no flow. Think like a child going on a road trip – what would make you pull over before you reach your destination? Plug in your computer, get the room to the right temperature; wear comfortable clothes; go to the toilet; clear the desk. Open supplies that you need – close your email and your phone so that they don’t disturb you. Have water and a snack available and ready to go.
- Prepare your brain. Having a small snack is important – our stamina improves when our blood sugar rises. Drink water – your brain is about 73% water and even mild dehydration causes brain glitches. Breathe – breathing affects our nervous system and blood flow to our brain, therefore our performance. Taking nice deep breaths signals that we are safe.
How do you get more flow?
Find that sharp focus – try some mindful meditation. It’s all about focusing your complete attention in the moment, to the task you want to tackle. It takes some practice, but it does get easier. To allow yourself to fully focus on a single task you need to create a calm and undisturbed working environment. Switch off any devices that distract you. Ten minutes a day – do it while you are waiting for your tea to brew it is about taking a pause
Your focus should be solely in the process itself. Thinking about what is coming up is a no-go, it will take you out of the immersive flow moment. Start the day by completing an actual task. A precursor to flow is to have that visible momentum by completing a task. If something gives you a shot of dopamine you crave it all day – task completion gives you a shot of dopamine in a good way. If you do something trashy like Facebook you will just crave it all day for more dopamine hits because it is incomplete.
Releases endorphins which increase productivity. It increases focus. Without it your mind it more scattered and distracted.
Make sure you have the right skills
You want to make sure that the task isn’t too easy or too hard. A challenging job stimulates our drive to use our greatest skills to their maximum. This, in turn, pushes us to experience the activity as satisfying and effortless and leads us to full immersion.
Choose things you enjoy
Getting in the zone is much easier, as well as more effective and pleasurable when it is tied to an activity that we find attractive and stimulating. That’s how we are able to achieve good work. While we can’t always choose to work only on our favourite tasks, the more passionate you are about the job at hand, the better you will perform and the easier you will get into the zone.
Create a ritual to start the flow
The flow ritual can be anything that gives the signal to your brain that you are about to start entering your flow state. It can have a certain type of tea, a favourite song. Anything to make you focus.
Only when success and failure can be easily recognized you can sustain the flow because you can change your actions as needed. In this way, you are able to stay on track and pursue the goal while enjoying the process.
Try it – get some more flow into your life. You will enjoy the benefits