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How to Achieve Flow – The Secret Sauce of Productivity

May 28, 2014


Most of us will be able to remember at least a couple of occasions when we were so absorbed in what we were doing that hours passed, and when we finally looked up from our keyboards (or books or musical instruments or whatever), we realised that it’s dark outside and we forgot to eat dinner.

If you’ve experienced this phenomenon before, you’ve already experienced Flow – a special state of consciousness when we are so deeply involved in what we are doing that we are basically un-distractible. (Not the same as indestructible, but almost!)

What exactly is Flow

The term, “Flow” was coined by psychologist and author, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In the book he discusses how musicians, artists and athletes can achieve a state of absolute concentration during their activities and completely block out the outside world while achieving top performances. You may know this state better as being “in the zone.”

I’ve experienced Flow during a number of different activities: in my former life as a coder, while drawing, reading, and writing fiction. Most avid gamers are well acquainted with Flow. You can achieve Flow doing pretty much anything that has the potential to absorb your mind fully.

A Flow-like state generally has the following characteristics:

  • Complete concentration and focus
  • Imperception to distractions and time
  • Complete absorption and enagement
  • An increase in ability, productivity and creativity

Flow is an almost–meditative state where you can achieve things that would not normally be possible, or substantially difficult.

The advantages of flow

Olympic medal winners, when interviewed after the event, will often talk about their achievement as if it was an out-of-body experience, and they were viewing it as a spectator. This is a demonstration of flow in action and how it can help us to achieve almost super-human feats. On more of an everyday level, spending time in Flow is a great way to get stuff done. If we can achieve that perfect focused state, we can work for stretches of several hours at a time and not be tempted by distractions or procrastination.

Achieving Flow can not only make you incredibly productive, but it can also reduce stress and increase your feeling of happiness. Many hobbies such as knitting, reading, and running encourage a natural progression into a flow-like state, which is part of their appeal.

How to achieve Flow

Achieving Flow is not always possible, and certainly not if you don’t enjoy the task you’re doing. Doing something that is fun for you is one of the easiest ways to trigger a Flow-like state. If you’re not entertained by what you’re doing in some way, it will be incredibly difficult to become completely absorbed in it, as your mind will always tend to wander towards something more enjoyable.

While once you’re in a state of Flow, you may find that you are unbothered by distractions. While you’re getting there, it is helpful to be somewhere peaceful and quiet. You might find music or some kind of ambient background noise will help you to get into a focused state.

The type of task you do is also important. Ideally you want something that is challenging enough to keep your brain busy, but not so challenging that you get frustrated and want to give up. Tasks that are just within the realm of your ability are ideal for invoking flow (and one of the reasons that computer games can be so absorbing).

You probably won’t be able to achieve Flow every day or every time you want to at first, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Enjoy losing yourself in your work or hobby and focus on the process of doing, not just the end result.

What is your experience with Flow? Do you have any tips for achieving it?

Image credit: Author: Skyseeker , retrieved on 28 May 2014 from; no modifications made; Licence:


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