Picture this scenario.
You’re in the final stages of writing a report for work.
You’ve researched your project for over six months and outlined what you plan to write in the final report for your boss and colleagues.
Now, you’re alone in your office and typing away. You’re not sure how much time is passing because you’re consumed by what you’re doing.
You’re not second-guessing everything that you write. In fact, you’re not thinking about yourself at all; your ego and self-consciousness slip away.
You’ve achieved one of the most satisfying states we can find in life: flow.
According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a flow state is when you’re completely absorbed in an activity. You aren’t thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch. You’re not worrying about how your colleagues are going to react. You’re completely focused on the activity you’re doing at the moment.
“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost,” said Csíkszentmihályi said to Wired magazine.
The flow state has many benefits, including:
- Improved creativity
- Boosted skill development
- Internal motivation
- Improved engagement
- Better emotional regulation
Certainly, it’s desirable to create flow at work. But how can you increase the amount of time you spend in this state of being?
Here, we’ll discuss some useful strategies for creating flow.
How Flow Is Achieved?
It’s not possible for anyone to always be in a flow state.
You will always have to complete tasks that don’t hold your attention or be consumed with nerves while completing the process.
However, most of us want to find our flow more often. To achieve this goal, it can help to understand how this state of being is achieved.
Csíkszentmihályi identified the four stages of flow:
- The first is the struggle phase, in which we are stressed, anxious, or frustrated as we plan or begin a task.
- Next, we enter the release phase, where we decide to put our worries aside and tackle the task. This activates our parasympathetic nervous system.
- After that, we enter the flow phase. Brain waves and body chemicals help us move from “conscious to subconscious processing.”
- Once we leave the flow state, we are still reaping the benefits of the flow state in the recovery phase. In this phase, we should rebalance so we can add what we’ve learned in the flow state to our day-to-day practices.
Flow state and its aftermath is valuable. But does your workplace offer you enough opportunities to enter flow regularly?
Does your job offer you enough opportunities to do what you enjoy?
If you don’t value and enjoy your job at least some of the time, you’ll have few opportunities to enter a flow state.
It’s much easier to find your flow if you identify the tasks that hold your interest and engage in those interests as much as possible at work.
“If your job is made up of stuff you hate, you might want to consider finding another job. Or consider seeking projects you love to do within your current job. At any rate, be sure that whatever task you choose is something you can be passionate about,” says Leo Babauta for Greater Good Magazine.
Are you accomplishing challenging tasks that help you develop valuable skills?
One of the key markers of a task that helps you enter a flow state is that it is both challenging (but not impossible) and worthwhile.
If a task is either too simple or excruciatingly difficult, you are unlikely to enter a flow state while working on it.
At the same time, tasks that help you enter flow help you build skills you find meaningful.
“When in a flow state, a person has a clear sense of what to do and can focus all his/her attention on it. Setting clear and motivating goals for others can help them quickly get started on their work and increase their motivation,” suggests Meng Li for The Ohio State University.
Do you have a high degree of control over the situation?
If you are constantly being pulled away from tasks, or your colleagues are constantly interrupting you, you will find it impossible to enter a flow state.
Achieving a flow state requires both time and complete attention. If you have a chaotic workplace or struggle with distractions (like constantly refreshing your email), you won’t be able to create flow at work.
Tim Gallwey, who focuses on the idea of internal self-control, says the more that we let external stimuli divide our attention, the less likely we are to feel stable and function effectively.
As paraphrased by psychologist Beata Souders, “Our inner stability depends on a sense of ownership, independence, and mastery (Gallwey, Hanzelik, & Horton, 2000).”
Creating Flow at Work
Flow is a desirable state of mind at work or at home.
While you can’t be in “flow” all of the time, you can enter this state more consistently by finding a job you enjoy, seeking out challenging projects, and avoiding distractions.
If you’re finding it challenging to create flow at work, you likely want to tweak one or more of these parameters. For instance, if you have a manager who stalls your team’s progress, you all lack control of that situation, making it difficult for you or your colleagues to find your flow.
What to do? Read our guide for strategies to improve this situation.