How to find and use flow state for maximum productivity
For young professionals seeking focus and clarity in their work, the world can be full of distractions. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by how many things there are to accomplish in a day. But what if you could move into a flow state whenever and wherever you wanted, and it just required learning a few rules? Accessing flow state could be a game changer: when they’re in flow, people report higher levels of productivity, deep focus, highly original and complex thought, and deep satisfaction with their work. Sounds pretty good, huh?
So what is flow state?
Recent studies on flow state, spearheaded by the work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, are suggesting that there’s actually a formula to flow state.The results are hard to resist: scientists say that flow state optimizes your productivity and work quality like nothing else. Steven Kolter, the author of The Rise of Superman, writes that “when a person is in a state of flow, all five potent neurochemicals massively amplify the immune system”. This means your body is flooded with feel-good chemicals that let you focus harder and work more optimally, while still feeling calm and centered.
According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, your brain is capable of processing about 120 bits of information a second. Talking to another person takes up about 60 bits. This is why listening to more than one person talk can feel impossible; it’s just too much information! That causes our brains to overload. Not enough information, and your brain gets busy distracting itself. When you’re operating at top capacity, you don’t have space to think about other things. The distracting, anxious chatter of your brain falls to the wayside. It feels effortless to focus. This is flow state.
People often describe flow state by saying that it’s almost like they disappear. They become so immersed in their work that they forget to eat, to sleep- their world becomes only the task at hand. Flow state is incredibly satisfying and relaxing: a way of working where the rest of the world melts away, and they feel fully immersed and satisfied with the work they do. And there’s lots of research that suggests that the work done in flow state is far superior to the work done out of flow state. People think and speak more coherently and knowledgeably, they appear confident and at ease, and people trust them.
Sounds pretty good, huh? And it’s sorely needed! In the workplace, distractibility is at an all time high. A recent Gallup poll tells us that 71% of American workers spend less than 5% of their day in flow. Distractions abound; Facebook, YouTube, texts, emails, etc- there are so many ways to avoid doing your work that it can feel like an epic struggle to get anything done.
But the newest science of flow state tells us not just that it’s possible to be in flow state, but that we can actually purposefully do it. So how do you get to flow state? It’s actually quite simple. According to the science, it often pivots around learning to challenge yourself in areas where you have high skills levels.
Take a Chance
This is a big one, and it’s going to be really different for everybody. We all have different comfort levels, but pushing up against the boundaries of what you think you’re capable of is a key element to evoking flow. For some of us, walking across the room at a company party to talk to a coworker to pitch a new idea is all it will take. For others, it might mean spending your weekends doing extreme sports. If it gets your blood pumping and your palms sweating, it’s working! The more often you do this (inside and outside of work) the more often you’ll realize that you can survive, and in fact, thrive in challenging situations.
Get Good at Something. Really Good.
“Do what you love, and love what you do”. It’s an old mantra, but it’s around for a reason! A key component to achieving flow is to become skilled in something, and the best way to do that is to love it. When we work in areas we love, or use skills that we love, our attention naturally gravitates towards using them well and improving them. When you follow your passion, your skills will develop rapidly.
Find the Sweet Spot Between Challenge and Skill
When the balance between the level of challenge and the level of your skill is just right, flow state is achieved. This is where that magic 120 bits of information a second comes in.
When you are in a situation where the balance is off, you can see how flow is not achieved: when the challenge is high but your skills are low, you will likely feel overwhelmed and insecure about your ability. When the challenge is low and your skills are high, you will feel bored and distracted. So much of our work life falls into one of these two camps, and people often oscillate back and forth between them.
To find the sweet spot, sometimes you have to do a little finagling. Many moments in a typical work day don’t naturally require high levels of skill, or high levels of concentration. But with a little creativity, you can start to create this situation for yourself in the workplace. If you often feel bored at work because the challenge isn’t high enough, what can you do to change that? How can you create more opportunities for yourself to achieve higher in these areas? If you feel like the challenges are too high, how can you improve your skills? Are there seminars you could attend? Are there people you could approach to serve as a mentor?
When you can find that sweet spot where the challenge is high and your skill set is also high, you will notice the world start to melt away, and you’ll naturally fall into a groove with your work. Start practicing this today. It might take a little elbow grease to get your personal formula just right, but trust us, it’s worth it!