Entering Into The State of Flow

Sam Matla is an ex-productivity blogger, despite still being interested in it. He reads a lot, and also produces electronic music (and teaches it as well) under the alias of Khazm. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Flow. We’ve all experienced it before.

It’s that feeling you get when you’re so deeply involved in your work that nothing else matters. Your entire collective consciousness is directed towards the one thing you’re currently doing. It is effectively the highest state of focus one can be in.

Positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihayli (what a name), describes this state of flow as:

“…complete immersion — being 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.”

What’s interesting about this is that Csikszentmihayli is referring to intrinsic motivation — doing an activity for its own sake compared to external factors such as money, deadlines, or authority. While these external motivators are absolutely fine, it’s widely believed that intrinsic motivation is better.

Keep in mind that this isn’t some mumbo-jumbo, feel-good pseudo-science. Most people have been “in the zone” before, and know how absolutely beneficial it can be.

This mental state is difficult to just switch on, unfortunately. It typically requires a few things to be in place. Note that not everything I mention in this article is necessary for the state of flow to exist. This powerful state can come on at the worst of times (when trying to sleep, for example) — even when you’re least expecting it.

That being said, there are a few things that help:

  1. Do something that’s important to you. Being in the state of flow is an enjoyable experience; you generally don’t get there if you’re doing something you absolutely hate. Like Csikszentmihayli wrote — “it’s doing a task for its own sake”.
  2. Eliminate distractions. Flow is — and requires — concentration. Having Facebook open behind your text editor or whatever else you’re doing is not going to help whatsoever. Turn your internet connection off if need be, turn your phone off, and focus.
  3. Make it challenging. You need to make your brain actually do some work in order to get into flow. This will help prevent boredom and also help you enter the state of flow. Remember to keep a good balance though. If the task is too difficult you’ll become frustrated, whereas if it’s too easy you’ll become bored.

This list could go on forever, but I truly believe that these are the three most relevant and effective ways of getting into this state of maximum momentum, productivity, and flow that we all desire.

Flow is incredibly powerful in terms of creative work and productivity. Not only does it bring back that enjoyable experience that our work may have given us in the past, but it also allows us to progress and finish tasks.

So next time you sit down to work on a project, remember to make sure it’s important to you, get rid of potential distractions, and challenge yourself!

Photo credit: robby_m via SXC.HU