• Andrew Wien

How to get into flow at work—not what you’d expect

Last Friday afternoon I had that feeling… ugh. How have I been working on business development for the past hour with nothing to show?

Last Wednesday morning was a different story… wow! I wrote and published my first blog in a year in just over an hour. I was feeling on top of the world. (Check out the article here).

Why are these two scenarios so different? If you are like me, you get the vast majority of your work done in extreme bursts of productivity— you’re more creative, more focused, and seem to solve any challenge thrown your way. In between are periods of distraction, procrastination, and slogging away where you put in a lot of hours without getting a lot done.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist recognized for identifying and naming the mental state in the first scenario—flow. He says flow is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. 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.”

So how do we get into flow? It is not something that we can turn on—it just happens when the right conditions arise. The better question is “how do we create the conditions that increase the likelihood we find ourselves in flow?”

They key is to eliminate distractions. Distractions are so pervasive that most of us don’t realize how ubiquitous they are. However, with a little advanced planning you should be able to identify and remove most of your distractions and create the conditions to get into flow more frequently.

You can eliminate distractions in two easy steps:

  1. Identify what distracts you. For the next day, keep a notepad handy, and whenever you find yourself distracted, either by internal thoughts or external interruptions, write them down. A surprising amount of my distractions were related to food, my cell phone, and internal doubt about if I was working on the most important task.

  2. For each distraction, think about what you can do to eliminate it. Do not underestimate the importance of small actions! Putting my cell phone on silent and in a drawer was enough to remove the distraction, despite my phone being a few feet away.

I followed this process, identified 11 unwanted distractions, and created a check-list to remove them. Now, when I go through the check list, I slip into flow about half the time on the work that follows. Just imagine—if you got into flow just one more time each day, what would you be able to accomplish?

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