How to Find Your State of Flow

Flow is the ultimate level of productivity. It’s that moment when everything is just flowing effortlessly out of you – be it words, music, or code. To anyone who’s interested in getting more done – flow is the object of wonder, fascination, and aspiration.

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

These moments are rare, which is why it’s important to target them and understand how you can access these pockets of ultra-productivity. One of the founding fathers of the concept of mental “flow” is Mihalyi Csikszentmihlyi, a former psychologist at the University of Chicago identified 9 elements of flow. Here’s one of his Ted Talks about the topic (it’s a bit long, so you might want to bookmark this page to come back to): The 9 elements of flow

  1. Clear goals
  2. Immediate feedback to one’s actions
  3. Balance between challenge and skill
  4. Action and awareness are merged
  5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness
  6. No fear of failure
  7. Self-consciousness disappears
  8. Sense of time becomes distorted
  9. Things become done for the end goal of the pleasure they give you for doing them

Based on the notion of flow, Csikszentmihalyi declared that “In many ways, the secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many of the things we have to do as possible”. To find flow is difficult. You have to find the right balance of challenge, knowledge, skill, environment, time, boredom, and anxiety. Not to mention that the state of flow requires you to tap into your subconscious –turn off your conscious’ criticism, and let your creative, right hemisphere of your brain loose. Left and Right Brain Visualizations

Here are some tips to find your flow:

1. Identify the time of day when you’re least distracted. A distraction-free environment is key to being able to zone out and drift into the state of flow. It can be at different times of day, it can be in different surroundings. You have to find what works for you. Tips: put on some headphones. That discourages colleagues of interrupting you. 

DT Pro Tip: Check out your DT weekly productivity scale – see when you’re at the peak of your productive time. This is most likely the time when you most can avoid other colleagues and also shows you when you personally are most able to avoid the cunning draw of distractions (like social media, youtube, constant email checking, or whatever it is for you). Take note! This takes lots of practice – when are these moments? What are your surrounding? It will teach you how you work best.

2. Find your right environment. Do you work best at a table? Outside? In a quite place? In a library? In a coffee shop? Some believe that a constant background noise is necessary. It makes your brain purposely turn off the outside environment, so that you can more easily focus on the task at hand. (try this rain and coffee shop background noise app)

3. Make it challenging. You won’t reach a state of flow unless you see the challenge in it. But it can’t be so difficult that it stands in the way of your ability to complete the task. 

4. Get lost in it. Whatever you do, don’t pull yourself out of the zone. If you feel yourself slipping into the “zone”, ride that wave. Avoid looking at the clock, don’t leave just because it’s lunchtime, put that off. Your flow is much more important. Enjoy the result. Your work will be better, you’ll get more done, you’ll be generally happier. When was the last time you experienced a state of flow – have any tips or insights? Share your experience in the comments below.  

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