When’s the last time you were doing something, and looked at a clock or sun, and thought, wow, I’ve been at this for hours and it felt like minutes? Despite the fact that it felt like no time at all, how much actually happened in that time? Probably a lot. And if this was time spent on a task, you likely got a whole lot done.
This is flow, a state of mind in which our brain stays singularly focused, breezes through any of the mental barriers we may often face, tunes everything else out, and becomes intensely productive at whatever it’s doing.
Flow can feel fleeting and out of our control. But I have a secret for you. You can achieve flow on-demand to get more done faster and feel a greater sense of wellbeing doing it. Here’s what I’ve learned.
What Is Flow?
Flow is a complete immersion of the mind in a task. When in it, the mind eliminates distractions without our even knowing those distractions existed. The idea was first defined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. But most of us have known our whole lives that we can get lost in something, especially when we enjoy it.
Why Do Our Brains Love Flow?
The brain loves flow because it feels in control. No straying thoughts, bubbling emotions, or even pain (in some cases) can break that control once you achieve it. When you flow, you are at your most creative and productive.
On the other hand, the brain hates, hates, hates multi-tasking. The human brain is not designed to shift back and forth between tasks. And hear this: studies have shown that when we multi-task, we are much more prone to error, each task takes longer, and we feel more stressed.
So for the writers out there, this may be the difference between taking four hours to force out 1000 words versus 120 minutes of pure flow. And you know what? When you go back and put your editing hat on to read it—which can take you out of flow BTW—you’ll most often find that you have some typos here and there, but that’s some of the best stuff you’ve ever written.
The writing flows.
Because when you’re in flow, whatever you’re doing is flowing with you. You’re equalizing the vibrations between your mind and a task in a positive way.
So let’s flow more. Are you with me?
How You Can Simply Enter Flow (Step by Step)
1. Choose a Career You LOVE
It’s so much easier to get lost in the flow, when you love what you’re doing. You’re anxieties and pressures relax, and you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your brain that is active when you’re enjoying something.
If you don’t love your job, then you’re doing someone else’s job. Find something else you can love. This may mean using your professional education in a different and more rewarding way. And this may require a life transition. Keep an open mind because once you make this choice, you’ll find doors open for you. You just need to be willing to go through that door.
2. Do Something Important
You might be thinking, “but I can zone out for hours binging a TV show on Netflix. Is that flow?”
Not really. The brain has just shut down all unused neural activity to pay attention the program.
We achieve flow when we feel something we are doing is worthwhile. It will add value to someone’s life and ours.
3. Make Sure It’s Stimulating
So some of us can zone out with an adult coloring book, video game, or a similar minimal thinking required activity—which these two activities don’t always have to be. This can be relaxing. But it’s not flow.
Our brains like to be challenged a bit, but not to the point of feeling it’s impossible. When we aren’t challenged, we mentally disengage. Think of a person on an assembly line doing the same thing over and over.
To achieve flow, seek out challenges in work and life.
4. Find Your Peak Time
A lot of people find that early morning is their peak time, and they get so much more done when they start early vs. starting around 8-9AM. On the other hand, some people do seem to be “Night Owls”. They get super creative, inspired, and productive in the late hours. And others will be in the middle.
Be aware and identify your time.
5. Find a Quiet Time
I know some people feel like music, videos in the background, or people talking makes them more productive, but you’re never truly in flow if you can hear these things. They will constantly compete for your attention. ASMR, white noise, and relaxed instrumental music, however, can help you achieve flow because they block these out.
6. Reduce Distractions
Turn your phone completely off and silence all notifications visual, auditory, and vibration—all of it. Tell your co-workers not to interrupt you at a designated time. Reduce clutter on your computer and in real life to prevent getting pulled away from flow to find something.
Anything that causes you to switch gears disrupts flow. And once flow is disrupted, it can take several minutes to get back into it—if you can at all.
7. Find the Joy in What You’re Doing
I don’t know anyone who loves doing laundry. At home, work, and personal life we all encounter things that need to be done when we’d rather do something else.
But flow is a state of mind. We can find joy in almost anything and when we do we can enter a state of flow. For the classic Disney fans, “Whistle while you work”, am I right?
8. Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t give up if flow doesn’t come naturally. Our brains are constantly changing and can change. You can’t force this. That’s the opposite of flow.
Practice turns flow into a habit, so that you can move into it faster, stay there longer, and get more important things done while there.
9. Get All the Benefits
I cannot communicate the extent to which flow can completely change your life. It’s worth striving for, and the closer you get to it you realize there is no “striving”. Even that becomes part of the flow.