cWhat is flow?
Have you ever been so absorbed in a project or task that time seems to simply fly by? Have you ever felt like your work is just flowing out of you effortlessly? If so, you have likely experienced a flow-state to some degree.
Nearly all athletes, artists and musicians throughout history have experienced a flow state, however, it wasn’t officially named “flow” until 1975 by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”. Flow is the state in which you produce your highest quality work, yet it feels effortless and enjoyable.
In this article we will share 3 steps, to help you get into a flow state.
How to get into a flow state:
The Pomodoro technique: As already highlighted in the article “5 productivity hacks”, the Pomodoro technique can help you focus on just one task, without distraction. While only working on 1 task for a 25-minutes session, you remove the distractions of choosing what to work on, and how long to work for.
Turn off your phone: Although a useful tool, phones can be amongst the most distracting, flow-limiting devices. Be sure to power them off and keep them out of sight. A University of Chicago study showed that even the sight of a phone during work can significantly decrease productivity and brainpower.
Listen to music: Listening to music can be a useful tool as well. Be sure to listen to repetitive music, with vocals that aren’t distracting (don’t listen to your favourite sing-along songs if you’re trying to get into a flow state). According to a 2007 study from Stanford University, music — classical music, specifically — can help your brain absorb and interpret new information more easily.
2. Prepare your body for success
Work at your peak biological time: Our peak biological times vary from person to person, but typically energy peaks initially in the first few hours of the workday, then begin to decline around 3 pm. Energy, and alertness typically then increase to a peak at around 6 pm which then declines for the rest of the evening. Be sure, when attempting to enter a flow-state, to take your peak biological times into consideration.
Get enough sleep: Sleep is crucial for nearly all functions of our body, both psychological, and physical. If you wish to enter a flow state, getting enough sleep is critical, studies have shown that cognitive performance and vigilant attention begin to drastically decline from accumulated sleep deprivation.
Exercise: Exercise is also extremely important, one study showed that workday exercise, not only improves well-being but participants noted a 72 percent increase in performance and focus on days when they exercised.
Be strategic with caffeine: Up to 200 milligrams of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee), has been proven to help you focus more intensely, work for longer periods, and even improved short-term memory. It is imperative to remember however that excess caffeine should be avoided as it leads to decreased focus and increased anxiety.
Stay hydrated: Hydration is key to focus, a study conducted in China found that even minor dehydration had noticeable effects on fatigue, attention and focus, and short-term memory. To assure you stay hydrated, health experts commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses (which equals about 2 litres) a day.
Control your diet: The food you eat not only has huge effects on your physiology but also your psychology. The foods, and diets for optimal energy/focus vary between individuals, however, some general findings from Harvard Health say to include:
- Green, leafy vegetables.
- Fatty fish.
- whole grains
- unprocessed foods
Their research also implied to generally avoid:
- fast foods/fried foods
- added sugars
- packaged snacks
- baked sweets
3. Focus on the right work
Work you care about: It is important to be genuinely interested, and care about the work that you’re doing. You should be striving to produce high-quality work, as this commitment to excellence, will help you stay engaged enough to enter the flow state.
Choose work of the right difficulty: The optimal position to enter a flow state, established by Csikszentmihalyi, is an area in which you are highly skilled, but where the task is also highly challenging.
This importance balance of skill, to challenge (highlighted in the figure. 1) is crucial. If, for instance, you are highly skilled in an area, but there is not a sufficient challenge, you will feel boredom or relaxation. If the task is difficult, and you are under-skilled, you will feel anxiety or worry
By mitigating distraction, properly preparing your body, and choosing the right work for you, you can effectively enter a flow state, improving your performance, efficiency, and overall enjoyment when working.