Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Do you also find it difficult to reach the state of flow, when you work from home nowadays?
Have you ever had the feeling of being in the zone, totally immersed in the one single task that you are doing and fully enjoying it, while time flies by?
Waking up in the morning with lots of ambition of how the day will go, you keep ending up disappointed most evenings, realizing that you barely ticked off half of the things on your to-do list.
No matter how hard you try to concentrate, random thoughts just keep popping into your head and you keep finding other things to do at home, like cleaning the surfaces, finally doing the dishes, playing with your dog, talking to your partner, thinking of already making the fourth cup of coffee before lunch, or anything else aside from your actual task.
I’ve been doing all of that (except for playing with a dog since I unfortunately don’t have one) a lot lately. This new situation really took some time to adjust to and now I am finally getting my productivity back and motivation to take on new projects again.
That’s why I decided to share with you an effective way to regain control over your life and feel productive and accomplished again. A great way to do it is through reaching the flow state.
What is flow?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the first one in the western world to define the concept of flow in 1975, although the understanding of this state has been existing in ancient religions, such as Buddhism, for much longer.
Being in the flow state immenses you fully into the present moment, making you give your full attention to the task that you are currently doing. It makes you feel in full control of the task.
Flow might even make you lose track of time and totally ignore all distractions around you, sometimes even your basic bodily needs, such as feeling hungry.
You are also likely to feel that the activity which made you get into a flow state is very rewarding, so you are likely to really enjoy it while you do it and when you complete it.
How to reach flow?
According to Schaffer (1975), you need these seven components in order to reach flow:
1. Know what to do
Start by setting clear goals for the task. Define all that’s needed to reach the goal and set mini-goals that you will reach along the way.
Check out my earlier article on goal setting here, to learn more in detail of how to do it.
2. Know how to do it
Set up a strategy and process of how you will reach your mini goals and finally achieve your final goal.
Think in great detail exactly what’s needed in terms of equipment, your own skills, and anything else that comes to mind for each mini goal. Know exactly what you will start with and how you will proceed before you actually start with the task.
3. Know how well you are doing
Make sure to receive immediate and clear feedback on how you are progressing during the process.
You can do this by either taking a moment to evaluate your own progress every once in a while, or discussing your process with someone else, like your manager or a mentor along the way to see whether you are still on the right track.
By doing this, you can clearly adjust your strategy and even reset some of the mini-goals along the way, which will make it easier for you to continue being in the flow state.
4. Know where to go
The direction is very important and keeping to it is essential. Just like in the point above, take a mindful moment from time to time to check in with yourself whether you are still focused on the task and your goal, without getting carried away.
Keep asking yourself whether what you are doing right now is getting you to the direction of your goal.
5. Free yourself from distractions
It is important to not have many distractions around you that can interfere with your flow, especially when you are about to start with your task.
Try to find a quiet place, where you can work undisturbed since it will allow you to concentrate on the task at hand.
Tell your partner/roommate or family members not to disturb you while you are working.
Make sure to have cleaned what needs to be cleaned, eaten some food, and maybe even have the snack, that you otherwise would be running for every five minutes, ready beside you 😊. Have your cup (or a few cups) of coffee, ready at your hands reach, and fix anything else that needs to be fixed before you start working. Also, set a time for when you have to start working no matter what and all distractions will simply have to wait.
6. The task should be challenging and maybe even a little difficult
This gives you motivation to start and continue working on the task. It’s great when the challenge can teach you something new and interesting and you get a chance to really test and complement your skills in the area.
But even for brain-dead tasks, I’m sure you can think of a way to make them into a part of some bigger goal.
For example, I usually think that more boring tasks challenge my patience, which is in line with my goal of becoming more patient and accepting towards all kinds of situations in life. This way, I create a bigger goal - become more patient and accepting - and I make the brain-dead task into a motivating mini-goal.
In order to reach flow, however, you should still feel that the challenge and goal are feasible. This will prevent you from getting overwhelmed, which leads me to the next point:
7. You should feel confident in your skills for the challenge
Even if the task is difficult, it is important to feel that you at least have the basic skills required to reach the goal, and feel confident that you will get there.
You may lack some skills, but they are not too difficult to learn and that even makes you more motivated to take on the task.
I have been focusing on applying these principles to my work recently, more than ever before. I must say that with practice, it becomes easier to reach the state of flow and regain our productivity even in less motivating tasks and more challenging environments, like at home where distractions are everywhere.
We just need to keep reminding ourselves of the goal that we have and the reason why we’re doing the task.
I also find it extremely important nowadays to try making as realistic goals as possible for each day.
It is really easy to get over ambitious and think of ourselves as equally efficient as before when creating our to-do lists for the day.
But, really, just starting with a few tasks every day and making sure to reach the flow state while completing them, is key to train our brains in becoming more productive over time.
Would you like to take on my challenge?
Try to apply the flow components to your next task at work. It would be ideal if the task is something that you either find a little too challenging, or even a little boring.
Really try to apply all the components and let me know how it went in the comments below, or by sending me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org 😊
I’m super excited to hear about how it went!
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on email@example.com
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Certified Mindfulness Life Coach
Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow, Human Factors International