3 Tips for engaging flow and improving productivity

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Does this scenario seem familiar?


You sit at your desk, ready to do some work. You try and get focused for the task at hand, knowing that it’s due in the next few days. You boot up the computer and mouse over to “Word (or Excel, etc.)” and try to forcefully create a document.

But nothing comes.


The cursor blinks away, yet you can’t get any words or numbers on the screen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

What about this slightly different scenario:

Let’s say do get something written down, maybe a couple hundred words and you feel good about it. And then all of a sudden you get a text, it’s your good friend asking to hang out after work. You quickly reply and then get back to work.

But you can’t get back to work because you’ve already lost your momentum, you’ve lost your flow.

Does this seem familiar? Is starting your work and/or staying there a problem for you?

It doesn’t have to be, you can get in the state that lets the work flow from you effortlessly.

Let me show you how.



You can’t get into a state of “flow”

Flow is a state of utter concentration where we can work tirelessly and time just seems to fly by. You might know it as being “in the zone.”

There are times when flow comes to us naturally, usually when the task at hand has the perfect amount of challenge and/or interest. But when it comes to work that isn’t particularly fun or is too easy or too hard, flow is blocked.

For situations like these, we’re unable to easily achieve flow and work can feel like a major grind.


You aren’t familiar with techniques that engage and maximize flow

I’m betting you’ve probably never considered taking control of your flow states.

What you’ve probably done all this time is either put off the work till the deadline forces you to take action, or just bulldogged your way through the work.

While both of those methods work, why use them when you can use techniques that make the work feel easy?


3 ways of engaging and maximizing your flow

The best way of working is by using flow, by being “in the zone.” So why don’t we stop forcing our way through unappealing work processes and use these 5 tips to finally start working with ease?


1. Know the 3 conditions for flow




A psychologist named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi conducted research on flow and found that its foundation is rooted in three main concepts:


I. Having clear goals and easy to see progress

First things first: have a clear, overall goal in place to guide your passage to flow.

task list works perfectly for this, as it provides simple instructions for you to follow and it’s easy to track progress by checking each task as they’re accomplished.


II. Having immediate feedback

The next important step is being able to see the fruits of your labor right away.

For instance, a painter can step back and see that he’s always one step closer to finishing his entire painting, very quick and effective feedback.

So for you, you’d have to be able to easily see how what you do today fits into your own big picture. This is different for everybody, so maybe you could write down a couple of long-range goals and see how your daily tasks tie into those goals.

Think of it as if each task you accomplish is a piece of big puzzle, and all you’re doing is adding a piece or two to it everyday. Then you take a step back and see how your big picture is coming along.


III. Having confidence that you can accomplish your goal

Finally, you need to believe that you can actually accomplish your goals. That’s why realistic goals are so important, if you don’t believe you can really do them then you’ll subconsciously slack off.

This applies to your smaller daily tasks as well.

Make sure you break down tasks enough so that you can actually accomplish them in one day. Otherwise you’ll lose confidence when you don’t finish them, and it’ll kill your momentum and prevent you from being able to get in the zone.

Having said all that, we now understand the foundation of flow and can move onto techniques that help us engage and maintain that flow.


2. Establish habits/rituals that prime the mind and body for work




When you have the proper habits/rituals in place, the mind naturally transitions to the tasks that follow them.

For instance, if you always wake up at 5:45 am and eat breakfast, then you’re preparing your mind for the transition of driving to work. If you always brew a cup of coffee before sitting down to work, you are preparing your mind and body for the task of working.

Having habits and rituals that precede your work make getting into the zone much easier. Consider how you can change your habits or if you can add a pleasant ritual (having tea, lighting a scented candle, etc.) before actually starting to work.

Easing into your tasks is just as important as the rituals/habits that occur before them. You can ease into a task by warming up to them, for example:


1. Writing an essay – A common way to warm up is creating the outline and rough draft, but you could also use a stream of consciousness (writing non-stop without editing) to get the mind and hands ready for the essay.

You could also create a mind map of what you’d like to write about, using an image based process like this one just might help get your creative juices flowing.


2. Cleaning a huge house – Naturally there’s resistance when we have a large goal ahead of us, so it’s best to just do the easiest thing first. See a sock on the floor? Start with that and put it in the laundry bin. See a lone dirty dish now? Put it in the sink.

Keep working like this, cleaning only the smallest and easiest things you see. Don’t worry about cleaning the “important” things or the “big” things first, just keep it easy and build up some momentum, and before you know it you’ll be in the zone and won’t even want to stop cleaning.

As you can see, it’s all about making those smooth and easy transitions to help get you in the zone. Once you build some momentum by warming up, getting in the zone becomes super easy.


3. Prepare your workspace




The environment you work in is extremely important to your work flow.

The most basic rule is to remove everything you find distracting, and add everything that helps you focus.

For instance, most people are distracted by television. I personally prefer the background noise, it helps me enjoy the process more. Some people enjoy working with others around, so going to a coffee shop or library is ideal. Others need to be alone and are only distracted by others.

But almost universally people are distracted by social media in all its forms (including texting), so when it’s time to work you should use a site blocker to prevent access to social media (and turn off your phone as well).

I also advocate using caffeine in some form to help facilitate the process. Green tea in particular has a great mix of caffeine and L-theanine (basically a calming concentration booster) that makes getting in the zone much easier.

Monks drink green tea to help them meditate, so I think we could get just as good benefits when using it to enhance our workflow.


A final note

Getting in the flow requires that you’re somewhat competent at what you’re doing, so if you’re doing something for the first time or are constantly hitting difficult stages in your work, achieving flow will be much harder.

All you can do is practice till you can do most of your tasks more easily, then you’ll find that flow will come to you much more often.


Over to you

Do you guys have any methods of getting in the zone? If you could share those techniques with us that’d be great, because I’m sure you guys know something that we don’t 🙂

Photo credits: ecstaticist, Stuck in Customs, workspace & Snugg via photopin cc

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  1. If your clearly-defined goal was to make a great post, then here is my immediate feedback: Awesome job! =P Thanks for a great read!

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