The Flow State: Unlock The Secret Tool To Optimal Productivity
Flow state––it’s something we’ve all experienced, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time. It’s when we become so immersed in what we’re doing, whether it’s completing a deck of Powerpoint slides, perfecting the flavours of a new recipe you’re trying out, or being so in the zone during work that you didn’t even realise hours have flown by and you’ve forgotten to eat lunch entirely.
Being in the flow state makes time go by as we’re completely absorbed by our task, which in turn raises productivity levels and helps us reach goals more quickly as you’re able to tick off task after task on your to-do list. Due to Covid-19, many of us have switched to work-from-home arrangements, bringing a whole new set of distractions. While buying WFH essentials that could boost productivity in the short-run, learning how to channel your flow state could make you feel more in control of your life and help you reach maximum productivity whenever you need it.
What is the flow state?
The flow state is a mental state that is also known as being ‘in the zone’. Originated from positive psychology and named by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, the psychologist became fascinated by artists who became so immersed in their work that basic needs such as food, water and sleep could be disregarded and work could be effortlessly completed.
Not sure what qualifies as a flow state? The following are the characteristics of the flow state, according to Jeanne Nakamura & Mihály Csikzentmihályi’s research on The Concept of Flow:
- Intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense that one can control one’s actions (Being confident in our ability to respond to situations)
- Feeling as though time passed faster than normal
- View activity as intrinsically rewarding (The process of working and doing the task is often times more rewarding than the end goal)
How can we find our flow state?
We spoke with Steve Waters, founder of social enterprise Contrace Public Health Corps to get tips on how to get into the flow state to reach optimal productivity.
Make Your To-Do List Smaller
An unrealistic to-do list may hinder your ability to finish tasks because you’ll be too stressed about the number of things you have to complete, says Waters. “My key to productivity is the concept of essentialism––it’s not figuring out how to do more tasks, it’s about making decisions to prioritise and doing less tasks but a better job on those that really matter,” he adds.
Waters' tips and guideline on prioritising tasks:
- Quickly list all of the tasks you want to accomplish that day
- Ask yourself “what is the most important thing to accomplish today” and choose one priority, not priorities plural
- Determine how long your priority task will take, and then add a 50% buffer
- Schedule your priority as the first thing you do that day
- Then determine how long each other task will take, adding a 50% buffer to each (do this before you schedule anything else)
- Based on that, schedule the tasks into the remaining time you have available that day. You are likely to find that there is not enough time in your day to schedule all of the tasks
The key is to make the hard decisions about what you are not going to to do today, and to remove tasks from the list until you are left with the most important tasks—ones that you can realistically accomplish (not reduce the time for each task to fit everything in)
See also: 5 Focus And Productivity Apps to Optimise Your WFH Setup
Build In Time Buffers For Tasks
A back-to-back schedule with zero wiggle room may sound productive, but when one task overruns and pushes the rest of your schedule back, motivation may leave just as fast as it came as you grow increasingly frustrated with your progress.
To tackle this problem, Waters suggests adding buffer time for your tasks to make your timeline more realistic, thus reducing the worry of not having enough time to complete a task properly.
“Distractions remove us from our hard-earned flow state and sap our energy, time and mental bandwidth,” explains Waters. To avoid distractions, cut down on unnecessary email, texts and calls to dedicate all your energy to your task.
Other distractions such as being tired, waiting too long to eat and turning “hangry”, noise, reading the news, unrealistic schedules, physical surroundings and being in the presence of other people are also examples of possible distractions that are able to affect our concentration levels.
“Free up time, energy and focus by uncommitting from things that don't really matter. Get out of the habit of casually committing to things you don't really want to do, so they aren't nagging at you and taking you out of your flow,” said Waters.
“Ask yourself, ‘What can you uncommit from on your to-do list today?’”
Get Enough Sleep
“The biggest distraction is one that people often don’t think of as a distraction at all—a lack of sleep. Being tired is a distraction in itself, as when you are tired your focus is diminished, meaning you are much more susceptible to distractions,” Waters expands.
See also: 5 Overnight Masks That Will Repair Your Skin While You Sleep
Celebrate Small Wins
According to research, incremental progress and small wins help to boost inner work life and boost engagement and happiness during a workday.
“Progress is the strongest human motivator––make your wins visible such as a chart so that you can see that you are indeed making progress, and getting into your flow state every day will become easier,” says Waters.
See also: Work From Home: Productivity Tips For Remote Working