What is the mental state of “Flow” and How Do You Find It?
We’ve all experienced the work wormhole before. That feeling when you’re sitting at your desk, lost in your work, and oblivious to the minutes – maybe hours – that are flying by. Perhaps you’ve had that same feeling while working with your colleagues or team on an important project. This “wormhole” feeling can make you and your team feel invincible and on top of your work.
Did you know that there is actually a specific concept and science behind this feeling of ultra-productivity? Well, there is and it’s known as “flow.”
Originally proposed by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the flow concept is a state of mind you achieve when fully immersed in a task. The Hungarian professor spent years researching and interviewing a wide range of professions and successful people, many of whom were Nobel Prize winners. He discovered that the key to their success and performance was their ability to enter the state of flow often and intentionally.
You’re probably wondering if this flow concept is just “all in your head.” But there is actually a biological reason behind this theory and why entering a flow state produces such positive outcomes. Research shows that performance-enhancing neurochemicals, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and endorphins, pump through us. These chemicals are highly addictive and fuel motivation, allowing for increased creativity, greater retention of information, and imagination. This is exactly what happens when we are in the state of flow.
So how do you know when you are experiencing flow? Here are some common “symptoms” you may encounter while in this hyper productive state:
- Complete focus on the designated task
- Forgetting about yourself, others, and the world around you
- Losing track of time
- A feeling of happiness and control
- Creativity and productivity
In short, flow is a concept that refers to being completely in the moment, regardless of what it is you are doing. This intense focus and being in the moment leads to a strong sense of calm and happiness in the work place.
Productivity vs. Flow
You may be wondering what the difference is between simply being productive and experiencing flow. When you complete many small tasks, you probably feel very productive. Perhaps you spent the day responding to the many emails flooding your inbox or you finally brought your car to get washed or maybe you organized paperwork or hopped from meeting to meeting. While completing many tasks, or multi-tasking, is indeed satisfying and necessary, that is not what flow is.
Flow is actually the exact opposite of multi-tasking. It is focusing specifically on one task, a task that is most likely much more time-consuming and more important than others. Rather than consisting of minor things, flow is when you get the most important projects and tasks done by buckling down, focusing, and losing yourself in the task at hand.
Csíkszentmihályi popularized this phenomenon that has proven to introduce many benefits to one’s mental and physical state. One benefit of flow is that it makes activities and tasks that are usually tiresome more enjoyable. Research has also shown that flow can lead to improved performance, which makes sense because when tasks are fun, people tend to do a better job on them. Finally, flow has been proven to further learning and skill development, since achieving this state of mind requires a continuous seeking of new challenges and tasks.
Flow in the Workplace
Now that you know what flow is and why it’s important, you may be wondering what it can do for you and your team at work. The answer comes down to a simple concept: when employees feel good and are engaged at work, they produce better results.
Employees who are fully engaged and satisfied at work exhibit amplified performance, increased creativity, and the ability to engage in deep learning. In other words, fully engaged employees who can deliberately enter the flow state benefit both their own experience at work, as well as the organization.
15 Tips for Finding Flow
At this point, you are probably interested in how you can start using flow in the workplace to create agile teams and positive results. Here are 15 tips on how to find flow and encourage it among your team members at work:
First things first, you need to be able to shut out all distractions. Flow requires undivided focus and attention on one specific task. There is no better way to prevent flow than having emails going off on your phone, social media alerts pinging, and text messages distracting you.
When you and your team faces a task, insist that cellphones be left behind or turned off to avoid time consuming, annoying distractions.
2. Say “No” to Procrastination
People tend to put off tasks, especially more time-consuming ones, out of a fear of failing. Facing a big project can lead to some feelings of overwhelm among you and your team, which can lead to less productivity or putting the project off until the last minute.
Instead, break the task down into manageable parts. While finding flow calls for challenging tasks, it is important to not make the task impossible for you and your team.
3. Stop Multi-Tasking
This may be the first time you have been told in a work situation to not multi-task. But this is crucial to finding flow in the workplace. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, “brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productive time.” That’s a lot of time lost that could be devoted to larger projects.
Give you and your team that lost productivity time back by focusing on only one task. Perhaps you may want to consider outsourcing some of your less important tasks. While an outside agency takes care of your organization’s smaller tasks, you and your team can focus on what you do best.
4. Get in the Right Headspace
You often hear of athletes or performers getting “in the zone” before going on. That may include listening to music that calms them down or amps them up. Maybe it means fueling up on the right food or drinks. The same goes for you and your team!
Whatever ritual it may be, it is important to prepare your mind and body to enter the flow. When you are in a good headspace, you feel good and are far more likely to achieve the state of flow and produce optimal results. Create a good vibe in the office and do what you need to do before sitting down and entering the zone.
5. Identify Any Anxiety or Stress Beforehand
Perhaps you have your favorite snacks handy, but you still aren’t in the right headspace before entering flow. There are many different things that could be in the back of your mind that make it impossible to lose yourself in your work. The best antidote for when this happens is to identify what is causing your anxiety and stress.
Take out a pen and paper and write down exactly what is bothering you. Putting it into writing is the most effective and easiest way to identify and visualize what it is that may be preventing you from entering a good headspace. After you write down your anxieties, figure out how to address each to rid yourself of any stress.
6. Make it Challenging
Everyone likes a bit of a challenge every now and then, right? Let’s hope so because that’s what it takes to find flow in the workplace. The point of flow is dealing with those tasks that are more time consuming than the everyday “grocery list” tasks. When in the state of flow, people are captivated by the challenge, which entices them to keep going.
That’s not to say that the projects should be impossibly difficult. It means that you and your team should break down the difficult projects or take on those that are challenging, yet doable. Look for a challenge or an obstacle that will test your skills and abilities, but not discourage or frustrate the team.
7. Love What You Do
While it is everyone’s dream to love the work that they do, it is also an important step towards finding flow. After all, it is a bit difficult to lose yourself in a task if you are dreading it beforehand. It is important to love what you do and your job so that you are more drawn to the tasks at hand, especially the more challenging ones.
When the going gets tough, you want to have a deep-rooted purpose as to why you are doing this. Identify and know exactly why is this task or job important to you. Any task you encounter will feel easier and more enjoyable if you love your job.
8. Seek the Important Tasks
When you feel like you are doing something important and truly impactful, it is far easier to achieve flow. If you can, find projects and tasks for you and your team that will make a long-term difference for your career or for a good cause.
Knowing that you are working on important tasks will give you peace of mind and a purpose, which will make a big difference in entering the flow state.
9. Establish a Zero-Tolerance Policy
In order for you and your team to be in a good headspace and enter flow, you need to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcome. Discrimination, judgement, or tension among team members certainly doesn’t make for a safe environment.
Make sure that your team knows that you have a zero-tolerance policy for that kind of behavior and that there are consequences. If you want your team members to perform at their peak, everyone needs to feel comfortable, safe, and welcome.
10. Collect Information Ahead of Time
Before entering your flow “bubble”, make sure that you already have the necessary information to complete the task. If you are trying to enter the flow state but have to go collect outside information or find someone to ask a question in the middle of your flow, you will inevitably be met by interruptions.
Once you leave the flow, it takes a little while to get back into it again, which can be a waste of time for both you and your team. Finding flow in the workplace requires preparation, so do not enter without all the information you need to get the job done.
11. Find Your Peak Time
There are two kinds of people in the world: early birds and night owls. It is important that you and your team discover what time of the day you work best at so that you are more likely to enter into the flow state. For example, if you work best early in the morning, you should try to enter the flow at that time. On the other hand, one of your teammates may be at their peak productivity just after lunch.
Whatever time of the day or situation it is, find out when you and your team work best so that you take advantage of the entire day and avoid wasting time.
12. It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Journey
While having a goal is important to finding flow, you should strive to focus more on the process rather than the results. The point of flow is to be completely in the moment, so thinking about the end results will not help you achieve this.
Learn to lose yourself in the process and become completely invested in each step. This will make it more enjoyable and will also make it feel like time is flying by.
13. Schedule Meetings Strategically
Obviously, there are meetings and important things that need to take place in an office to ensure that all is running smoothly. Unfortunately, poorly scheduled meetings can interrupt your team members’ flow and lead to valuable flow time being wasted. There are ways to schedule meetings strategically, to ensure that time is being used as efficiently as possible.
It takes about 10-15 minutes to enter the state of flow. Therefore, it would be unwise and a waste of time to schedule two meetings that are 30 minutes apart. Allow enough time for your team to enter the flow and stay there by scheduling meetings either back to back or at least two hours apart.
14. Focusing Calls for Practice
Practice makes perfect and that goes for flow, too! Begin your task and focus on it for as long as you can. For those who are accustomed to hopping between different tasks or who pride themselves as being the “office multi-tasker,” this can certainly be more of a challenge.
But with more practice and by eliminating distractions, this will become less challenging and will help you and your team find flow.
15. Enjoy the Flow
Finally, try to enjoy the flow while you are in it. It is difficult to truly appreciate this state of mind when you are in the middle of it. After you and your team finish the project, take pride in the feeling – that awesome feeling of triumph!
Flow requires great focus and practice, so give you and your team a pat on the back when you find it!
There you have it – 15 tips on how you and your team can find flow! Although achieving flow in the workplace requires practice and focus, the results are remarkable and will produce the best results for your employees and organization.
So what are you waiting for? Start reaping the many benefits that flow boasts for your mental wellbeing and your business’s success!