We all have these moments when we look at the time only to realize we’ve been so focused on something we didn’t realize six hours have passed. Or when we lift our head up and realize the sun is up again, even though it seems that it was 9 PM moments ago. Sadly, I have to admit that this only happens to me when I play video games (and when I was reading the final Harry Potter book for the first time).
But what if we can do the same with our workday and power through our daily tasks without a single break? As if nothing else mattered and there was no world outside?
For years, it was believed that the so-called ‘flow state’ is a superpower granted only to geniuses, unavailable to the large crowd. It’s been widely studied in sport, giving the public an ultimate answer to why athletes act like they forgot they’re humans. But, it’s been also proven that flow state can be achieved in many fields, not necessarily these perceived as ‘star-like’. In fact, any person engaged in a contemplative, creative, or analytical task can achieve it. Businesses can even aim for team flow to achieve better results.
In this article, I’ll show you how you can adapt this concept to your needs and be your most productive self. This is not the easiest process, but trust me - it’s worth trying. A 10-year study has proven that the flow state can boost our productivity by 500%! Isn’t that something?
What Is Flow State Productivity?
The concept of flow was introduced in 1975 as a phenomenon combining the full, energized focus on one activity and a full involvement while experiencing joy. Today, we perceive it as the creative, productive process that brings us excitement, joy, and total immersion into the task that makes us lose the track of time. Rather than feeling rewarded by the outcome of our flow state, we feel satisfied with the mere process. In fact, we’re bound to it so much that we’re capable of stretching ourselves to achieve more than we normally would.
It’s quite normal to ‘forget’ to go to the bathroom, eat a snack, or have a sip of water while in the flow. Somehow, our body seems to feed on this state of mind, giving us a strange sensation of calmness. It may sound odd, but if you take yourself back to the times when you played your favorite video game for hours or when you spent all night talking with someone special, it suddenly becomes reasonable.
It is not easy to put yourself into a flow state but once you do, make sure there are as few distractions as possible. Trust me, you don’t want to interfere with the flow. Speaking from my experience I can tell that once I get inspired and focused, I become unstoppable. Suddenly I don’t need coffee, more information, fewer distractions, more time, or whatever excuse seems to be suitable at the time. It doesn’t matter that my back started to hurt and that I didn’t drink even a sip of water during the last 12 hours, I simply can feel neither pain nor thirst. I know that you should take breaks, drink water, let some air to the room, etc. but flow state isn’t something that you can achieve on a daily basis. - Weronika
Steps To Get Into Flow State Productivity
Think about the last time you’ve experienced this sudden realization of how much time has passed. Was it after you’d done something you absolutely hate? Probably not. Maybe it was in the middle of an amazing friendly gathering. Maybe it was while you immersed yourself in your hobby. Maybe it was during a great weekend that went exactly as you wanted it. Whatever the circumstances were, you were most likely enjoying them to the fullest.
This is actually the trick to the flow state. It lies somewhere between enjoyment and a challenge, so the ‘like’ factor is a must!
However, don’t assume that the key to achieving flow state productivity is loving your job. If it was that simple, there wouldn’t be any science to it. It’s more complex than that - and while the joy is a part of it, so is the hard work and finding the meaning behind your actions.
If you’re planning to enter into the flow state, make sure you prepare for it. Luckily, it’s not something that just strikes us out of the blue - you can trick yourself into it. And the longer you work on it, the easier and better it’ll get!
Choosing The Right Source Material
Like I’ve mentioned above - enjoyment is the first step to achieve flow state productivity. That being said, do you know a single person who absolutely loves each and every aspect of their job? Me neither. Even if you’re fond of it in general, there’s always something you detest, like answering emails or filing invoices. But let’s not focus on the tasks you hate.
Selecting a task that you enjoy for your first flow state isn’t enough. Go for something that’s equally pleasurable and challenging, so that you won’t get bored with it after half an hour. Plain, non-complex tasks won’t consume your attention enough, letting your mind wander somewhere else instead. Don’t make the mistake of picking something too hard either - you’ll get frustrated and lose the motivation.
Finally, this may be obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway - pick a task that you’re competent in. The process of learning, while important, doesn’t pair well with flow state productivity. It simply makes you use your brain in a different way.
See how I used ‘task’ as in singular, right? Many believe that the secret to true productivity - and the flow state - is actually single-tasking. So, pinpoint the most important things to do and cross everything else off your list (at least for now). Switching back and forth before numerous activities will make you busy, but won’t take you anywhere. This can mean that you won’t pick up your phone, answer emails, or have ‘fun’ with paperwork. But if these things can wait until tomorrow, after you’re done with a key project, take the sacrifice.
Finding The Right Spot
It seems that the current world situation has its upsides after all. With our social life basically on lockdown, many companies have decided to introduce new remote work procedures. The home office is arguably the best place to get into the flow state productivity, as it comes with fewer distractions.
If working from home is not an option for you, don’t worry - you’re not a lost cause just yet. Invest in noise-canceling headphones and try to find a quieter place in your office where you won’t be disturbed by colleagues (even noticing someone walking nearby can kick you out of the zone). ASMR, ambient noise, or even rain sounds will also greatly improve your experience with the flow state.
On the other hand, if you can be flexible with your work surroundings and hours, take some time to think about your most productive periods during the day. These can depend on your character and your sleep schedule, but also on others’ behaviors. You may decide that the time window between your spouse waking up and leaving for work is not the best moment to focus on anything. Or that 10:30 AM, when the office sandwich guy shows up, is precisely when your colleagues running towards him distract you.
Be The Best Version Of Yourself
Carefully picking out the right type of work and reducing outside stimulants will take you nowhere if you don’t take care of yourself first! If you’re unmotivated, sleep-deprived, sick, or in any other way unwell, all the tricks in the world won’t help you get into the flow state.
Make sure you’re well-rested and your mind is fresh. Flow state productivity is exhausting, so it’s extremely important to take care of yourself before and after you get out of the zone. While working, you may forget about the outside world, the fresh air, and your close ones. And that’s okay. But remember they’re not only there to distract you - they’ll help you achieve your best results!
Find Extra Incentives
Do you know how every single one of the ‘how to be productive’ guides tells you to get away from your desk every once in a while and move around a bit? Well, apart from the obvious health benefits, low-impact physical exercise can boost your creativity and, therefore, help you get into the flow state. Just put your sneakers on and go for a brisk walk - there’s no need to finish a triathlon here. It’ll help you reset and, who knows, maybe you’ll even experience a little flow state while you’re at it.
When starting your day with achieving a flow state in mind, take a look at your desk before sitting down. Put away anything that can distract you (yes, that includes the picture of your puppy). Shove a mysterious pile of miscellaneous papers into a folder and put it somewhere out of sight - you’ll deal with it tomorrow. Turn off your notifications and mute your phone. In fact, giving your colleagues and close ones a heads-up and telling them to give you some space won’t be an exaggeration! Let them know that you want to spend a couple of hours dedicated to one task and that you’ll be back in the afternoon.
Finally, if you’re into this kind of activity - you can try actual meditation and the art of mindfulness. It’s believed that these practices help you build and improve your consciousness and, as a result, truly immerse yourself in your tasks and feel the unity between yourself and your activities. Work on being ‘in the moment’ rather than continuously thinking about the past or the future - this is precisely what distracts you from achieving the flow state.
Get In The Zone
For some, the trick to achieving the flow state is via a ritual. You can combine the activities I’ve mentioned above and form a habit that will help you and your brain understand what you’re about to do. Clearing your desk and your mind is a great starting point, but if you want to take this further, think of other activities that make you feel energized, inspired, and motivated. To some, it can be a morning run, to others (like me) - a giant cup of coffee.
Look for people and sources that boost your creativity, like podcasts, books, or newsletters. Even a short phone-call with someone who inspires you to do more can help.
Always Strive For More
At first, getting into the zone will be difficult. You’ll probably struggle to focus on one task, especially if you’re a serial multitasker. But this doesn’t mean you won’t get better at this! If you lose your concentration, keep calm and carry on, as the Brits would say. Note why you lost your flow and what could you do to avoid it in the future.
In fact, I dare to say that every consecutive flow state you’ll achieve will be better than the previous one. As you experience them, you’ll learn more and more about their nature and the best way to trigger them. Try tracking your flow states - aimed or accidental - to have a better understanding of how your brain works. We are all different, after all, and may be driven by different factors.
Why You Should Aim For Flow State Productivity
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’ve probably just assumed that it’s all too much to handle and the amount of work you need to put in is ridiculous. Well, I have to admit, it’s not easy to induce the state of flow, and this concept is definitely not for beginners.
Nevertheless, it’s worth trying! There’s nothing to lose here. Even if you struggle with concentration at the beginning, you’ll work it like a muscle until it learns to be strong. Even if your first flow will last less than half an hour, you’ll accomplish more than you otherwise would. And even if you find out that you can’t get ‘in the zone’ more often than once a month, you’re still that one step ahead!
When (what unfortunately isn't happening every day) I'm able to reach my flow state, my work isn't just an organized list of tasks. It becomes a stream of thoughts and actions that seems natural. It's almost like a martial artist practicing the same technique for hundreds of hours just uses his muscle memory. I'm doing this same with my brain. Most of the time I’m just going in and out of this stream surprised that a couple of hours passed and I worked the sh*t out of my task list. When to think about it, it seems close to meditation, because I feel more relaxed than exhausted afterward. - Kuba
I’ll repeat it once more: enjoyment is a key part of the flow state. So, if you’re feeling unwell, if your backache is so bad you can’t focus anymore, or if you’re hungry beyond reason - please, take care of yourself. Don’t force yourself to ignore it just for the sake of productivity. Health and wellness always come first.
If you’re ready to try this concept and get the most out of your time, make sure to take the proper steps. Get your brain ready by sifting out the less important tasks, block your distractions, and set your mindset right. The rest will be a breeze.
/Side note: I ALMOST achieved the state of flow myself while writing this article. Sadly, I forgot it’s the mowing-the-grass-every-single-day season. This horrific sound can wake up the dead.