The Flow Mode: What It Is and How to Get into It

The Flow Mode: What It Is and How to Get into It

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Most knowledge workers today fight an unfair battle with the biggest foes of productivity: multitasking and distraction. With thousands of tasks piling up, the two-headed behemoth that gets in the way of achieving your daily goals may seem like an unbeatable obstacle.

But there’s a smart way to overcome the curse of switching tabs and constant diversions.

What could that be?

Well, it’s a state of mind that’s inherent to all of us. It’s called the flow mode and is the greatest productivity booster out there, better than any app or method. After all, a 10-year McKinsey study found out that top executives were 500% more productive when working in the flow state.

Alternatively known as being in the zone, the flow is a term from positive psychology, coined by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It means that you are fully immersed in your current activity, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, rock climbing or tackling an important work project. Your focus is sharp, so awareness and activity merge, making you able to achieve much more than in your usual state of mind.

The flow state is the key to ultimate productivity, increased work satisfaction, boosted creativity and, ultimately, personal and professional happiness. In the long run, it is a skillful method to beat your own tendencies to constantly switch between tabs and get distracted that drive you to exhaustion and burnout.

Let’s go straight to the practical hacks of how to get into the flow state. Here are the 5 crucial factors for entering ‘the zone’ to apply in your daily work, plus 5 practical tips to experiment with.

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The top 5 basic hacks: how to get into the flow mode

 

Getting into the flow state is not only a huge productivity booster. It’s also very pleasurable! Being in the zone entails that your sense of self changes because your prefrontal cortex, which generates the feeling of ‘me,’ is temporarily deactivated. That’s how you get to feel as one with your current activity.

The flow also means you experience a sense of complete control over your actions. This full immersion makes you forget about your bodily needs and can even change your perception of time.

And the best part is, work can be experienced as joyful and fun in this way. Amazing, right?

Scientists have identified 17 flow triggers (3 environmental, 10 social, 3 psychological and 1 creative) and 10 major components that contribute to and bring you into the flow mode. We’ve summarized the most important hacks from them in 5 straightforward hacks that you can apply daily.

So, how to get into the flow state?

#1. Find that sharp focus

Whether you’re acquainted with mindfulness meditation or not, this first hack has a lot to do with it. It’s all about focusing your complete attention in the moment – at the task that you want to tackle. Call it single-tasking, if you like.

While it does take some training, it gets easier with time and brings a joyful sense of experiencing the current activity in its fullness. Even if your mind starts running away and goes into ‘autopilot’ mode, just bring back your thoughts to what you’re doing at the moment.

PRO TIP: To allow yourself to fully focus on a single task, you need to create a calm and undisturbed working environment. Switch all your devices to mute and put them away. If you don’t need an internet connection for your current task, turn off the wi-fi. You can even use tools like StayFocusd and RescueTime. You won’t believe how much time per day you will save by not checking your social media accounts a dozen times.

#2. Get clear on goals and expectations

For both solo and teamwork, having clear goals is crucial for getting you into the flow. You need to have at your disposal some basic information about the task at hand.

What is its purpose? What exactly should be achieved? What are the precise expectations, either yours or your team leader’s? To set the ground for the flow mode, make sure you’re well aware of the answers to these questions before you start working.

PRO TIP: There’s a smart catch here. While knowing what the end result should be, while you’re working, your focus should be solely on the process itself. Thinking about the future is a no-go area, as it will instantly take you out of your immersion in the moment. Using Hubstaff can help a lot with setting clear goals for yourself and your team, so you can concentrate on what’s really important in the moment.

#3. Make sure you have the appropriate skills and abilities

Flow is found in the intersection between feeling challenged and having the right skillset to succeed

One of the most important hacks for immersing yourself in a task is to ensure that there is a perfect match between your knowledge and experience and the job that needs to be done.

What is meant by ‘match’ here? The task is neither too easy, nor too hard for you. A challenging job stimulates our drive to use our greatest skills to their maximum. This, in turn, pushes us to experience the activity as satisfying and effortless and leads us to full immersion.

PRO TIP: Avoid falling in the extremes, as it is not useful. Fancy an easy task? Well, think twice. If the task is too light, we cannot focus in a deep way because we are not as engaged. In the same time, if it is too complicated, we may feel overwhelmed, which means our anxiety can kick in and ruin the flow.

#4. Choose activities that you enjoy

This hack has a lot to do the life choices we make. Yes, probably you can get into the flow mode doing practically anything. But getting in the zone is much easier, as well as more effective and pleasurable when it is tied to an activity that we find inherently attractive and stimulating. That’s how we are able to achieve ‘good work.’

While we can’t always choose to work only on our favorite tasks, the more passionate you are about the job at hand, the better you will perform and the easier you will get into the zone.

PRO TIP: While it depends on the type of your work and the chemistry in your team, try to take on projects and tasks that are as close to your heart and ambitions as possible. Your emotional attitude towards the activity can influence your ability to get into the flow while performing it.

#5. Ensure constant and timely feedback

Getting into and staying in the flow mode cannot happen in the vacuum of your own head. You need an external source of information – or even feedback from team members – to continue striving in the right direction.

Only when success and failure can be easily recognized you can sustain the flow because you can change your actions as needed. In this way, you are able to stay on track and pursue the goal while enjoying the process.

PRO TIP: For team players, set a clear system for feedback with your coworkers, as much as it is possible in the context of your team. It’s worth training team members that critical input can be highly valuable, as is timely feedback.

Finding your personal flow: try these hacks

Besides using the top basic tips just outlined, it’s always useful to explore your own psychological and social responses to different other stimuli.

Here are 5 practical hacks that you can try out on top of the basic ones, which are necessary prerequisites for the flow. Probably not all of them will suit you, but only experimenting with them will show you what works best for you.

#1. Create a ritual to start the flow mode

With this tip, you can go wild. Your flow ritual can be just about anything that gives a signal to your brain that it’s time to start digging in the flow. Your favorite ‘in the zone’ song, pulling down the curtains, brewing a fresh cup of coffee – or anything else that makes you react and focus your thoughts in one direction.

#2. Try the Pomodoro technique

How to get into the flow state? You can try out the Pomodoro technique

You don’t need an actual Pomodoro kitchen timer, but if you fancy those, why not get one? Set a timer for 25 minutes and just tell yourself that during this time, your one and only focus will be on the task in front of your nose. This will help to activate flow triggers such as risk and sense of control.

#3. Find the right white noise

Some prefer to work in complete silence, while for many others, music is the key to higher productivity. If music is too much for you, you can try out different white noise options. In this way, you can see which types of sounds help you stay in the zone by triggering deep embodiment in the activity.

#4. Experiment with variety and creativity

Creativity and novelty are key factors for triggering the flow. You can check out how working in different settings affects the ease with which you get in the zone – physical locations, light, temperature and other external factors. As for creativity, the more you apply it in your work, the deeper your flow will get. Plus, they feed into each other!

#5. Create a physical challenge

Your brain gets quite happy when you engage in physical activity. Planning for plenty of exercise in your week can not only make you produce more happy hormones. It also helps in training your mind to constantly challenge your limits. This allows you to slowly expand your mind control, so it gets easier to hack your way to the flow state.

The flow does not need to be that mythical state of mind where optimal productivity occurs. It’s right here and now, so it is accessible to everyone. Start by applying the 5 basic hacks that set the stage for the flow. Then hit the right vibe with one of the 5 practical tips and enjoy the ride!

What’s your favorite hack to get into the flow mode? Sharing your useful insights can help thousands of people hit their sweet spot!