If your work has a creative component, then you’re likely familiar with the concept of flow state. Even if you don’t know it by name, chances are you’ve experienced it at one point or another. Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where concentration is acute, focused, and sustained. Here, “action and awareness merge” and sense of self, self-consciousness, and even an awareness of time largely disappear. In this state of mind, performance is heightened and creativity is richly, and often dramatically, increased.
Research supports the idea that achieving flow state profoundly impacts performance. In one study, 40 subjects were presented with a difficult brain teaser, and none were able to solve it in the amount of time provided. But, when subjects in flow state were given the problem, 23 found the right answer before time ran out. Other studies have shown that folks are as much as five to seven times more creative in flow state than they are otherwise.
So, whether you’re a writer, an accountant, or something in between (as far as creativity demands go) being able to more easily navigate your way into flow state, and linger there for as long as possible, could help you professionally in a big way. Here are a few quick tips.
Once you’ve achieved flow state, or even when you’re simply building toward it, checking social media is a surefire way to snap yourself right out of it. Try to stay in the zone with your work — close those social media windows, and put your phone away.
- Take your breaks intentionally.
Instead of giving yourself a little mini-break from your work every 60, 30, or even five minutes to casually check your phone or have a quick chat with a co-worker, try being more intentional about your breaks. Decide when you’ll take them and get away from your desk when the time comes. You’ll feel more refreshed and ready to tune back in afterward.
- Be patient about getting there when you’re first starting to work.
It takes some time to get into a state of flow. Some say it takes as much as 30 minutes of focusing on a task to fully reach it, although this varies depending on the person, the day, and the task at hand. What’s important to know is that it takes some time to get there. If you’re overthinking it, it could take even longer. So, focus on the task at hand, and be easy and patient with it. You’ll get there.
- Make getting enough sleep a habit and a priority.
Getting a good night’s rest, regularly, is so important for health and cognitive functioning. If you’re trying to achieve flow state when you’re overtired, you’re forcing yourself to swim upstream, so to speak. Try making sleep a priority in your life, and see if you doesn’t save you time and energy somewhere else (maybe everywhere else) in your life.
Multitasking and flow state don’t go well together. Concentration is important here, so focus on just one thing at a time. Do what you can to limit the potential distractions and interruptions that could come your way. The more you practice working this way, the easier and more habitual it will become.
- Find time for nature.
Just as sleep is restorative, so is spending time in nature. Being outdoors has been shown to lower stress levels — it calms people down and improves their performance. Even just having a plant in your office can make a difference. But, finding the time to regularly breathe in a little fresh air and feel actual earth beneath your feet might be the optimal option.
- Take good care of your body.
In addition to getting enough sleep, we function best when we get regular exercise and eat well. All of these things help you achieve the best conditions for entering into flow state and splashing around there for a bit.
- Know that flow comes easier when you have challenging tasks and a high level of skill.
In 2004, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presented a TED Talk about flow state, and how it can lead to better productivity and also increased overall happiness. Through his work, he concluded that flow state is most often and easily achieved when a challenging task is met with a perceived high level of skill. This combination, he concluded, is optimal for achieving a state of flow. Keep this in mind in terms of your own work.
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