What the Flow??
Now that I have your attention, flow is an amazing feeling. Have you ever found yourself “in the flow of work?” What is flow exactly?
It's A State of Mind
"Being in the flow" is a state of mind. That means you control getting into it. I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm saying it's possible. We'll go over the how-to in the next section. For now, realize that it is something you create in your mind.
Pay attention to what happens to your thinking, your feelings, and your surroundings when you get into the flow naturally. This will help you later on when it's time to get in the flow on demand.
Your Energy Levels Are High
The next thing you'll notice when you get into the flow state is that your energy is really high. You'll be able to focus and make progress on whatever project you're working on for a long time – until you're either disrupted or exhausted.
This is an important "side-effect" of being in the flow to remember. Take note of what it feels like. This will help later on when we talk about getting into the flow. It feels a bit like having had a lot of coffee (or caffeinated beverage of your choice) without the jittery side effects and definitely without the caffeine crash a few hours later. It's also a bit like the boost of energy you feel after you've gotten a really good night's sleep and are waking up ready to tackle your day. Come to think of it, that's how a lot of "flow" states start.
You're Highly Focused
The next big sign of being in the flow is that you are very focused. Tasks that usually take you hours, get done in half an hour. Email, social media, the phone, Netflix, or the pile of dishes in the sink suddenly aren't the big distractions they usually present.
You're hunkered down, focusing on the task at hand with your blinders on. No wonder you're so productive. Again, remember this for the next section when we start talking about getting into the flow. Not letting yourself get distracted and staying focused is a biggie.
You're Having Fun
Last but not least, you're having a lot of fun when you're in the "flow." It's exhilarating and time's flying as we've already established. Being focused and getting a ton done in a short amount of time makes you feel incredibly accomplished and proud. Endorphins start to kick in, and you do feel a bit like a superhero.
It's a great feeling, and it would be nice to be able to generate it on demand instead of just having it happen accidentally every once in a while. Let's talk about that next.
How Do I Get In The Flow?
We established already that "flow" is a state of mind. And that means we can technically "think" ourselves into that state. Sadly it's not quite as simple as making up your mind that you'll be hyper-productive at the drop of a hat. Thankfully though, there are some simple hacks you can deploy to make it easier to get into a flow state.
Getting into the flow is a bit of a personal thing. It works a little differently for each of us because we are all motivated by different things and various factors help us get into the flow.
One thing that will help you quite a bit is to reflect on what has gotten you into the flow in the past. Think about those times and also pay close attention the next time you feel in the flow. Use the suggestions I provide and compare them to what happens when you enter a flow state.
Set Yourself Up For Success
The first thing you should do is whatever you can to set yourself up for success. We'll talk about some specifics here in a minute, but for now, realize that it's all about making it easy to get into the mental state of flow. Distraction is your enemy. Much of this section focuses on eliminating distractions to give you a chance to get into the flow state.
Check Your Surroundings And Tweak As Needed
Before you sit down to get going on your project, take a look at your surroundings. Are the conductive to getting focused and inspired work done? If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
If your desk is cluttered, spend a little time to clean it up. You don't want the clutter to distract you.
Turn off your phone, email alerts, and shut the door to your office if it's work you're doing on the computer, for example.
If you're working on a project outside, or in your workshop, check your surroundings and make sure you're comfortable.
Speaking of which – check the temperature and either dress appropriately, or set the thermometer to a comfortable level.
Set yourself up for success.
Be Prepared – Get Everything You Need Ready
Next, think about anything you may need within reach while you're working in the zone. You don't need to continue to get up to go dig for a file or head to the kitchen for some water. It's distracting and can get you out of your heard won flow.
Plan your project and if it helps, make a little checklist of things you need available at your fingertips. Go over your list and get things in place before you get started.
This applies to things like home improvement projects as well. You don't want to get into the grove of painting a room, fixing an appliance, or restoring a piece of furniture only to find you have to head down to the hardware store for a missing tool or piece.
Pay Attention To Your Most Productive and Creative Times Of The Day
We all have certain times of the day when we are more productive and creative than others. Note that those two don't always overlap. You may be more productive in the morning from 10 to noon, but more creative in the late evening, for example.
It's important to pay attention to when your most productive and most creative times of the day are. Depending on what kind of project you're tackling, you can greatly improve your chances of getting into the flow by sitting down or getting to work at the right time of the day. You may experience this more productive time just once a day, but most people tend to have two or three different times when they feel most alert and productive (or creative).
Block Out Time To Work Productively
Once you know, you can set aside some time to get things done (and hopefully get into the flow) during these periods of time.
Let's say for example, that you find yourself at your most productive from 8am to 10 and then again from 2pm to 4pm. Knowing this, you can block out productive work time during those 4 hours.
Schedule meetings, phone calls, office hours, and the likes during times when you know you're not at your mental best. Use those times for "busy work", or general planning, communicating and catching up.
By being able to focus on your most important work during your peak hours, you improve your chances of getting into the flow. Give it a try.
Get Enough Rest & Sleep
It's hard to get into the flow and do your best when you're tired. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and work in some rest and relaxation as well. Yes, you can make do on little sleep and work like mad for a couple of days when you're highly motivated to launch a product for example, but it isn't sustainable.
For the majority of the time, you're much better off setting work hours and then tuning out and unplugging when it's quitting time. You'll actually get more done when you focus on your high productivity hours and get in the zone. You'll produce more quality work in those few hours than you would otherwise sitting at your desk for 10 to 16 hours.
And doesn't it sound like a lot more fun to work hard and focused for a few hours and then go do something fun? Work hard and play hard… and then sleep hard.
Get "In The Mood" By Creating Atmosphere
We talked earlier about how much of getting into the flow is a mind game and how thinking back on times when you've achieved this hyper-productive state can help you replicate it on demand.
Creating the right atmosphere to get you "in the mood" can be very helpful. Below are a few ideas to help you achieve that. Again, your own experiences may vary, but if nothing else, it's a good starting point.
Play Some Tunes & Try Different Scents
The mind can be influenced by things like sounds and scents. Remember this when you're creating an atmosphere that's conducive to getting into the flow.
Do you have a particular scent you love that also makes you feel alert and productive? Light a candle in that scent before you sit down to work. Next, let's think about sound. Some of us will only reach our flow state when it is completely silent. That may be hard to achieve if you're sharing a home or workspace with others, but do what you can.
Otherwise, give music or other types of sound a try. They are great for drowning out otherwise distracting noises. Personally, I find it easier to concentrate with purely instrumental music, but your mileage may vary.
Looking back on other times where you were in the flow can help here as well. Do you get a lot done when you play your favorite band at a high volume? By all means, go for it.
It's all about making it easier to reach that particular state of mind.
Here's the Hard Part -
Work on Your Mindset
Last but not least, let's talk about your mindset. Getting into the flow is mostly about getting out of your own way and allowing it to happen. The big problem is that you won't get into the flow when you're worrying about the quality of your work or wondering if you've paid the cable bill this month.
In other words, you can't let yourself get distracted. Practice along with the preparations we've already talked about is your best friend. Keep setting aside time and try to get into the flow state. It's a little like getting good at meditating. It takes time, practice, and you have to make up your mind to make it happen.
There are a few techniques you can use that will make it easier to get into the flow. Use them as mental crutches until you can get into this state of mind on demand without any help. That's the end goal here and one that's well worth striving toward.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It
Yes, you heard me right. Sometimes you've got to fake it until you make it. And faking a flow state is a great way to get some practice in. What it means is to basically it down, put on your blinders and get to work.
Let's say you're a writer and you want to get into the flow state where writing becomes effortless and you're producing the next American novel with ease. That may not happen right away, but the writing will get easier with practice.
Sit down and get in the habit of doing sessions of highly productive work. You can get a lot of good work done even if you don't reach the flow state in the beginning. Some days you will work your way into it, some days you won't. The important thing is you keep practicing and before long it will happen for you.
Keep working on it and faking it by doing focused, quality work, until it becomes effortless when you want to get into the flow.
Get Inspired And Motivated
I don't have to tell you (again), that getting into the flow is all about how motivated, inspired, and excited you are about a project. While that's not the only determining factor, having a project you're strongly motivated to work on and finish can help get into the flow.
Before you sit down to get to work, spend a couple of minutes thinking about why you're doing what you're doing. Even if it's an assigned work project, or something you don't necessarily want to do (filing taxes anyone?), you can usually find a good reason why you're doing it.
Sometimes you're why is just that it's your job or like in the case of the taxes, something you have to get done. But if you can, find a stronger, more emotional reason why you're doing whatever it is you're getting ready to work on.
Think about who you're helping and whose life you'll make a difference in. Finding that strong emotional connection can help you stay focused, stay on task, and eventually get into the flow.
Keep reminding yourself of your inspiration and motivating regularly. If it helps, set up a vision board, or simply place a few little reminders around your work area. Remember, this is a mind game, and if you can keep your mind happy, excited, and motivated, the battle is half won.
More than anything I want you to take away from this article that the flow state is well worth exploring and something you don't have to wait for. There's no need to sit and hope inspiration and flow will strike. Instead, get to work, and do whatever it takes to create flow on demand. I am not promising you it will be easy, but I am telling you that it is an endeavor well worth pursuing.
It will make work fly and make it a lot more fun, no matter what you do and what projects you tackle. You'll end up happier and more fulfilled by what you do, be it to earn a living, support a cause, or even just a hobby or home improvement project around the house. Getting into the flow makes any project, work task, or chore more fun and fulfilling. And you'll do a better job to boot – isn't that worth getting into the flow state for?
My answer is YES!