You know the days when work is just magic - everything is going smoothly, problems seem to solve themselves and there is enough time to focus on time-demanding tasks. At the end of those days, we feel fulfilled and have a sense of creating something meaningful in our lives. There is motivation, enthusiasm and openness to tackle any “beast” coming along.
Whether it’s the lack of sunlight in our latitude in winter or something totally different there seem to be more people who have lost their mojo and are more or less pushing themselves through the task lists. How to find the flow and keep the superpower that makes us enjoy our work-life? One of the ways is to focus on finding and creating the right atmosphere for the flow-state. Even if it does not feel 100% “right” at first, one way to trick our minds is to fake it ‘till you make it, right?
According to VeryWell Mind, flow is a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity - there is no place for ego, time flies and the person is using his/her skills to the utmost. It is noted that flow experiences do occur in different ways for different people and it often surfaces when you are doing something that you enjoy and in which you are quite skilled. While being in the flow is often associated with creative tasks like painting or doing sports, working in a flow is one of the most productive states a human being can experience.
Experiencing the flow has various benefits. It is associated with subjective well-being, satisfaction with life and general happiness. At work, it’s linked to productivity, motivation and company loyalty. Also, a sense of accomplishment, higher energy levels, openness to problem-solving and a positive attitude came along.
How to boost flow at work?
We all have experienced off days - there is no flow insight. The specialists explain that there is no point to expect that we could be in the same mental state every day. Some days are better - we are more rested, there are fewer external issues occupying our minds, we are more satisfied with our lives - and it gives us a good start for having a flow state. When days are rough, one shouldn’t be too hard on himself - just accept that some days are less fruitful and with fewer creative ideas. Still, when in need of the flow state, there are some tricks that can tilt you in the right direction.
The task has to be a bit challenging. According to Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who recognized and named the psychological concept of flow and had researched the topic for decades it all comes down to the challenge level of the assignment. When the tasks on our agenda are too easy, we get bored (aka no flow state), if the task is too hard, we tend to get stressed and annoyed (again no flow). Therefore the assignment has to be challenging enough to keep your brain interested while at the same time you’re skilled enough to tackle the challenge without it being too difficult.
Eliminate external distractions. Some say that the main secret to achieving a flow at work is to organize your schedule in a way that permits you to work without distractions for at least 2 hours twice per day. It might feel too much, but let’s start with one session per day.
To reach and stay in the state of flow, it is wise to silence all the e-mail and Messenger alerts and dedicate the time to the task at hand. Every time you react to the notification on your phone (the biggest source of distractions nowadays), your focus will be diverted and it takes 23(!) minutes to fully immerse in the situation again. So, take advantage of the “do not disturb” function on your phone.
One good helper to keep the focus is background music - it can be your favourite artist, but some say that instrumental music is the best for writing and thinking. It works as white noise - you pay less attention to the sounds around you, it lifts your spirits, but does not distract the flow of thoughts. Spotify has several playlists for studying and deep focus worth checking out.
For better focus, use the environment that works the best for you. It can be a challenge at home, with family members yearning for your attention. Many freelancers and specialists find it is much more effective to work from a coworking space than at home. A place designated for working with the right equipment, comfortable office chair, lighting and coffee machine all support your productivity. The hot desk and dedicated desk options allow using the facilities, even 24/7 and benefit from the work-oriented atmosphere. Having people around looking for the same flow state and focusing on their goals also have a strong motivational impact.
Besides the external distractions, also internal distractions could stop creating the flow when there are tens or hundreds of items on your mind. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed makes focusing on work rather difficult and you could even find yourself feeling guilty for enjoying the flow as some other tasks are waiting. So how to tackle those? You could try daily journaling (just 10 minutes a day), regular meditation or something as simple as listing all the tasks on the paper first thing in the morning, so the scattered thoughts would find “a home”. All the actions do have a calming effect and will allow you to be more in sync with bigger tasks.
If you’re struggling to achieve flow – or are just worn out by its intensity – aim for mindfulness instead. You can think of mindfulness as a more accessible cousin of flow. According to Ellen Lenger, a psychology professor at Harvard who has written several books on mindfulness, creativity and belief, the concepts are very similar. “The major difference is that mindfulness is a state of mind that is available to everybody virtually all the time. It’s not an unusual thing,” she says.
Work on a single task only! When jumping from one topic to another (multitasking), it can be a challenge to experience flow - it usually then just drains energy levels and could make you feel as if nothing is accomplished. When working on a single task - one by one - the flow state comes much easier.
Therefore try to plan your days in a way that you have an option to concentrate - block a 2-hour slot in your calendar in the morning or afternoon, where you can focus on getting the work done! Of course, there are jobs and times when people need you to respond to their messages and calls, but try to designate at least some time for single-tasking. Your mind (and boss) will thank you later!
Working in a flow mode has its rewards - we will feel happier, and accomplished and we know we have used our skills well.
If you want to know more about the flow state, watch the TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly “Flow, The Secret to Happiness”