Imagine, after months of training, you’re finally about to run in the big race you’ve been dreaming about since you were a child. You walk up to the start line and crouch down, ready to spring into action. You slow your breathing and wait for the sound of the starting gun.
It goes off and your feet pound the track, propelling you forward. The cheering crowd fades away. You don’t even pay attention to the other racers beside you, you’re so focused on your goal of winning the race. You’re in the zone, a perfect flow state.
This is a magical place to be! Unfortunately, it can be difficult for most of us to achieve. In this article, we’ll explore what a flow state really is and how to find it using seven proven strategies. Let’s get started!
What is the Flow State?
Let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia:
“Flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, 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.”
The term “flow state” was originally coined by the Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in 1975. The concept of flow, though, has been known and practiced for thousands of years — and it has many potential benefits. For example, those in a flow state are often more focused, creative, and productive. They also tend to be happier.
Most people have experienced flow at one time or another. It often happens during athletic events or creative pursuits like making music or writing. But everyone is different and when and how each of us experiences flow will vary.
The good news is, there are things you can do to help yourself achieve a flow state more regularly! That’s what we’ll discuss in the next section.
How to Find Your Flow
Ready to find your flow, boost creativity and productivity, and enjoy your work more? These seven tips will help you enter into a flow state more regularly.
1. Take Care of Your Body
Let’s start with a few basics. First, taking care of your body is important for achieving a flow state. If you’re hungry and/or tired, it will be much more difficult for you to “lose yourself” in any activity you participate in. So before sitting down to do meaningful work, try and eat a good, healthy meal.
It’s also vital that you get enough sleep at night. Just like when you’re hungry, your ability to focus on the activity at hand plummets when you’re tired. But it’s not just about the amount of time you spend in bed, it’s also about the quality of that time.
A fitful night’s rest won’t help you reach a flow state. Do what you can to get enough quality sleep and you’ll put yourself in a great position to achieve flow at work.
2. Remove Distractions
Distraction is the ultimate flow killer. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, distraction is everywhere, lurking, waiting to disrupt your concentration and obliterate your productivity. This means that you need to take extra precautions in this regard.
Here are a few things you can do to eliminate distractions while you work:
- Turn your phone to airplane mode. Better yet, turn it off and/or remove it from your sight. Place it in a drawer, a closet, or some other hidden away place.
- Log out of your social media channels and email. The constant pings from messages or lure of your Instagram feed won’t help you achieve a flow state.
- Wear headphones. They’ll help block out any distracting noises surrounding you. They’ll also signal to co-workers that you’re not available to chat.
- Listen to music. This tip is a bit risky. Not everyone works better while listening to music. The key is finding the right kind of jam to listen to. So experiment a little and figure out what works for you. We recommend starting with some kind of ambient tune.
- Close your office door. If you work in a private space, close the door while you’re working to help eliminate distractions from entering in.
- Use the Pomodoro technique. Sometimes, no matter what you do, your mind will wander and try to procrastinate. When this happens, use the Pomodoro technique. All you have to do is set a timer for 25 minutes (or another reasonable length of time of your choosing) and work consistently on one task until the timer goes off. If you’ve never tried this trick, give it a go. You’ll be surprised how well it works.
3. Forget About Multitasking
Multitasking is a surefire way to NOT reach a flow state. Sure, it sounds great in theory, doing multiple things at once should improve productivity, right? Wrong! The human brain just isn’t good at focusing on more than one thing at a time.
And since flow is all about concentration, you need to eliminate multitasking if you ever want to achieve a flow state. Instead, choose one task to focus on and pour all of your effort and energy into it.
4. Identify Your Goals
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s move on to some higher level flow state ninja tricks, starting with goals. To achieve a flow state on a consistent basis, you have to know what you’re working towards, what you’re trying to achieve.
This helps for two reasons: it will allow you to craft a logical plan to achieve your goals, and it will help you know when your goals have been achieved.
When you know how to accomplish your objective, you can put all of your energy into actually doing it rather than making plans and devising strategies. And knowing that you’re achieving what you set out to do will inspire you to keep at it.
5. Find Your Sweet Spot
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is best achieved when the challenge before a person is well-balanced with the skills they currently possess. If a task is too easy, you’ll likely become bored and concentration will become more difficult. On the other hand, if a task is too difficult, you might lose confidence and the desire to complete the task.
One of the tricks to entering a flow state is to work on projects that both challenge you and suit your skill set. This is the sweet spot you should be aiming for.
6. Gamify the Process
But what if you’re forced to work on projects outside your sweet spot? Unfortunately, professionals run into this problem every day. But don’t worry, all is not lost. You can overcome this challenge by gamifying the project you’re working on.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been tasked with organizing old company files. Sounds terribly mundane, right? How could anyone enter a flow state will working on this boring project? The answer: gamification. Make it more fun by seeing how many files you can accurately sort in a minute. This will keep you engaged in the process and help you find your flow.
7. Improve Your Skill Set
And finally, if you’re having a hard time finding projects that fall into your sweet spot and achieving a flow state at work, it may be because you’re skill level isn’t where it needs to be. Like we mentioned earlier, flow is much harder to achieve if you’re constantly working on unrealistically challenging projects.
So do yourself a favor and up your game. Work to improve your skills so that the tasks you’re asked to complete aren’t too challenging for you. Not only will you be more likely to achieve a flow state, but you’ll also become more valuable to your company and have the chance to advance your career.
Enter Your Flow State
Knowing how to consistently enter your flow state is a valuable skill to have. When in flow, you’ll be more productive, your natural creativity will blossom, and you’ll enjoy your work a lot more.
So remember to take care of your body, remove distractions from your working environment, forget about multitasking, identify your goals, and find your sweet spot. If necessary, you can also gamify the process to make boring tasks for more interesting and improve your skills to make challenging tasks more doable.
Now get out there and enter your flow state!