Ever wish you could do more in less time? It turns out, the more time you spend in a “flow state” or “in the zone,” the more productive and efficient you’ll be. Scribd Coach author Jari Roomer explains how spending more time in a flow state is critical to upping your productivity in Enter the Zone: Three Steps for Accessing Peak Performance. He also explores how you can access that flow state mindset more often. Here, we uncover his top tips and include other helpful reading recommendations that go deeper into some of his most recommended practices.
What is “flow” and how do you get into a flow state?
Originally coined by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and written about in his seminal work, Flow, it’s a feeling of utter concentration that feels completely natural. “Flow is defined as a psychological and physiological state of peak performance,” Roomer explains. How do you know you’re there? It’s that feeling when you lose track of time as you work on a project, completely in the zone.
Finding a flow state is one thing, staying in it long enough to make progress is another. You’ve probably had this happen: You’re buried in a big project and things are going great. Your creative juices are flowing, and you’re making great progress. Then, a notification pings on your phone. You glance over and see a text from your boss, and instantly, your productive flow-state session is shattered. "The primary reason why so little time is spent in this peak performance state is that, nowadays, information overload and distractions are more abundant than ever before,” Roomer explains. "Everyone is distracted by one thing or another — and distractions are the number one enemy of flow.”
While you can’t snap your fingers and find your way to flow, you can improve your ability to get there by following Roomer’s 3C method:
- Creating a distraction-free environment
- Controlling the monkey mind
- Cognitive optimization
How do you create a distraction-free environment?
Consider these two scenarios: You’re working remotely from home and have a big report due. In Scenario #1, your “office” is the dining room table, where you can see laundry piled up on the couch and the dirty dishes in the sink. Your dining room chair is squishy and uncomfortable, and you can feel your back tensing up. Your spouse walks through the room regularly on work calls. Now, consider Scenario #2: You’ve carved out a small desk space in the corner of your laundry room, where the hum of the washing machine creates some white noise so you can’t hear your partner’s calls, and your desk chair makes your back feel better, not worse. Guess which scenario is more primed to put you in a state of flow?
Being endlessly distracted, or having what’s called a “monkey mind,” feels like you’re flitting from thought to thought constantly — and it’s not easy to tame. Fortunately, meditation is like strength training for your mind. Spend time learning a meditation technique and practicing regularly, and that regular meditation will make it easier to bring your focus back to the goal at hand. Listen to Still the Mind by Allan Watts to learn more about how to start meditating.
Finding flow is great, but if you’re using your time in a state of flow to work on what Roomer refers to as “low-impact tasks,” you’re unlikely to make any real progress, no matter how many items you check off your to-do list. If you feel like you’re constantly busy working but rarely making real progress, one way to tell what high-impact tasks are is to ask yourself what you’re procrastinating on. "In reality, it’s precisely these high-impact tasks that we tend to procrastinate on the most. They are often more complex, time-consuming, and energy-draining,” Roomer says. "Therefore, we tend to push these tasks to the magical land of tomorrow, and we’d rather work on many easy tasks that we can quickly cross off our to-do list.”
Should I schedule flow state time?
Roomer is a fan of scheduling time early in the day to focus on important projects — the ones that will be boosted by being in a flow state — or whenever you have the most energy. But perhaps equally important, he says, is the idea of scheduling time for those low-impact tasks that still need to be done. Having those times blocked off as well makes you less likely to pause a flow-state session to handle sending an email or running to the bank. "Scheduling your focused time makes you more likely to commit to it,” he says. "On the other hand, schedule one or more clear blocks of time in your day or on your calendar that you can dedicate to things like answering emails or messages, or work on other administrative tasks. This can help you minimize the desire to check these other things, and help you avoid switching costs.”