To get in a state of flow, you need to understand what it means. To do that, ask yourself:
Have you ever been completely and utterly immersed in a task?
If the answer is yes, then you have.
All sense of time fades away as you become wrapped up in the present. Distractions are a thing of the past, and everything is seamless.
You could be a musician learning a new song, a competitive athlete, or a writer. It’s relative to you.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the man who defined the term, describes it as:
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
According to DePaul University researcher Owen Shaffer, these are the seven conditions needed for achieving flow:
- Knowing what to do.
- Knowing how to do it.
- Knowing how well you’re doing.
- Knowing where to go (navigation).
- Perceiving significant challenges.
- Perceiving significant skills.
- Being free from distractions.
Personally, flow occasionally occurs when I write an article that invigorates me, or sometimes when I exercise.
So how do you find this magical state and boost your productivity tenfold?
Let’s find out.
Strategy 1: Choose a Difficult But Not Impossible Task
When I’m at work, I do the same repetitive tasks that don’t challenge my brain enough, making me bored. Consequently, I don’t flow.
Conversely, I remember getting incredibly frustrated when I couldn’t figure out math homework at school. It was too complicated, so I gave up.
Ideally, you want to find a middle ground; something that tests your abilities to make it a challenge.
As Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles write in their book ‘Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life’:
“we want to see challenges through to the end because we enjoy the feeling of pushing ourselves.”
For example: if you are an athlete, add a new exercise into your regime. If you’re an event organizer, try organizing a bigger event you’ve been too scared to do. I am a writer, so I am now looking to set up a newsletter, for instance.
Assess your abilities.
Strategy 2: Have a Clear Objective
In the past, I’ve played my fair share of video and sports games. Every time there has been a clear objective: winning.
The singular goal for me and everyone on the team is to win, so I became immersed in the process — achieving flow.
For most situations, this is unrealistic. A lot of jobs can feel open-ended, causing your mind to feel empty due to a lack of completion.
Every week, I write tonnes of articles. Each one is the completion of a small goal, but the lack of finality makes striving for a concrete objective difficult.
When working for big companies, objectives can get lost in the chain of command. A Gallup study found that only 13% of employees worldwide feel engaged at work, as they don’t have a clear goal set out for them.
If you focus too much on the journey, you may lose sight of where it is you’re going.
When I write, I set goals to keep my objective clear by asking myself questions such as:
- How many articles will I produce this month to reach my target?
- How much time am I going to dedicate to creating my course before the deadline I’ve set?
As Garcia and Miralles write, it is essential to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something.
Don’t get lost in the objective, however. Flow is all about being present in the moment.
In the recent documentary ‘The Last Dance’, Michael Jordan says a lot of good players miss shots because they think “what if I miss.” Jordan has a singular focus, however. He is present in the shot — his only goal to make it. Perhaps that’s why he won so much.
“His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast, shoot a basketball. His gift was that he was completely present, and that was the separator.” -Mark Vancil
Take small steps toward your goal, and you’ll find yourself shifting toward your flow. Write the first word, then the next, and so on. Start the process.
Strategy 3: Concentrate on a Single Task
Take a second to think about what you’re doing right now. You’re reading this article, but what else are you doing? You might be listening to music, eating, or half-watching TV.
Distractions are so easy to come by, they can make a thirty-minute task take an hour. Sometimes I’ll receive a message and proceed to waste 10 minutes scrolling, then get annoyed with myself for wasting time.
When we say we are multitasking, we’re just marching back and forth between tasks very quickly.
According to Garcia and Miralles, concentrating on a singular task may be a vital component in achieving flow.
Studies have shown that when accustomed to multitasking, people have difficulty carrying out a singular task. Moreover, researchers have found that merely sitting near someone can drop your IQ by as much as 17%.
Moreover, Csikszentmihalyi says the brain can only take in “110 bits of information a second.” To put that into context, you take in about 60 when talking with someone. The brain simply isn’t wired to multitask.
To focus, he says, you need:
- To place yourself in a distraction-free zone.
- To have control over what it is you’re doing at all times.
Implementing these rules doesn’t need to be complicated. Typically, you should remove as much technology away from the situation as you can, as it is easy to get carried away.
So turn off your phone, practice meditation, or go to a cafe without WiFi and turn your 4G off. The goal is all that matters.
It’s Simple, Really
To be honest, we don’t help ourselves. Flow is difficult to achieve because we don’t allow ourselves to get there. We create distractions by multitasking to ‘save time’ when, in reality, it doesn’t.
In reality, it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you’re to take away anything from this article, let it be these three words:
- Challenge yourself, but don’t overstretch your abilities to the point you can’t do it.
- Set a clearly defined objective, and worry about that instead of scrutinizing how you’ll do it.
- Avoid distractions and focus on doing the task at hand.
In an increasingly goal-oriented world, productivity hacks are highly sought after. To keep up with the modern world, you need to strip it all back and just go for it.