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Why Is The ‘Flow State’ Important When Working On Tasks And How Do You Develop It?

by Jasmine Surif. |

“No pain, no gain” – this is the philosophy that is often quoted when referring to carrying out a task or being productive in general. However, the idea that being ‘productive’ equates to experiencing discomfort while doing work isn’t always true. Have you ever started on a task and became very immersed in it? In everyday life, some people would refer to this state of mind as “being in the zone”.

There is a ‘professional’ term for that, and it’s called the ‘Flow State’. Why is this significant when working on tasks? This is a state of mind where your focus levels are optimal, which leads to greater productivity. The best part of this is that you are experiencing ‘relaxed high performance’: not only are you calm and feeling positive emotions while working, you also get the most out of your time! Being in the ‘Flow State’ means that your constant productivity rhythm brings you satisfaction, so you’re feeling good while developing better work habits en route to completing tasks!

This term was coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as a component of positive psychology. A McKinsey and Co. study showed that people who were working in the ‘Flow State’ were 500% more productive compared to when they were not. Does this interest you? Do you feel that this would be beneficial?

If so, read on to find out how to develop the ‘Flow State’ for yourself:

1. Find what motivates you (and be specific!)

Motivation is the most crucial factor that determines how committed you are to your work. Therefore, it is imperative that you set a clear, precise goal for yourself: what do you want to have achieved by the end of your productive grind? It is best to be specific and realistic when it comes to goal-setting; if a target is too broad or unachievable within the timeframe you have given yourself, it will lead to feeling overwhelmed and the urge to ‘give up’ will be more prominent.

When you sit down at your workspace, ready to crack on, be sure that you know what specific task you will be working on. Rather than saying something along the lines of: “I will revise Math today”, you should try something like: “I will revise the Trigonometry topic today (and another topic tomorrow)”. By doing this, you break a seemingly large task down into manageable chunks, which birth more satisfaction when you complete it, which helps you enter the ‘Flow State’.

2. Remove distractions that decrease productivity

Noise, notifications, a screen lighting up, the urge to check a social media app – we’ve all been there before. These are all forms of external distractions that should be removed if you want to ensure yourself a productive work session. You know the drill: turn your phone off and stow it away in a different room if you have to. Sit in a familiar workspace with good lighting that has everything that you need to use while working to prevent the need to get up and search for items – adventures like these waste time and interrupt your flow of work. Everyone has different things that may arise as a distraction, so to put it simply, put measures in place to eliminate all distractions!

However, there is another form of distraction that is less commonly talked about – internal distractions. These take the form of thoughts which intervene when you are trying to focus on completing your task, such as: “I wonder what’s for lunch?” or, “I miss my partner”. Trying to tune out these thoughts is difficult, but if you practice resetting your focus back onto your task every time your thoughts start to derail, you will be able to manage it. Another tip, although it may sound like a distraction, is to listen to music – music fills your cognitive space and reduces your brain’s itch to think about other things. This may work for some people, while some others are fine working in silence. However, if you do listen to music, it is important that you listen to the right kind: familiar songs with repetitive tunes and lyrics. These criteria ensure that the music doesn't compete for cognitive attention in your brain, but instead allows you to focus more on your task rather than the change in tune or lyrics in songs.

Once all distractions are removed, you can enter the ‘Flow State’ while working as you do not need to focus on any other things.

3. Know when you work best and are most energised

Attempting to be productive when you're half asleep is just counterproductive - you're wasting time and effort and it's likely you’ll obtain no benefit. It's integral to know when you work best and have the most energy so that you can get the most out of a productivity session. It is difficult to work at a steady rhythm (or flow) if your brain is preoccupied with dealing with fatigue. Ensure that you eat a sufficient diet (and some carbs to provide energy) prior to settling down to be productive so that you will indeed be a productive busy bee rather than an exhausting all-nighter.

A useful tool to help you predict when your energy peaks is BPT, which stands for ‘Biological Peak Time’, also called ‘Biological Prime Time’. This term, coined by Sam Carpenter, refers to the time of day where your body is most energised and will allow you to maximise your productivity. A rough understanding of your BPT can help you to understand the workings of your body based on your ultradian rhythms (cycles of productivity) so that you can schedule when you work accordingly. Through the recognition of when you are naturally motivated to work and is and feeling energised, it eases your ability to enter the flow state, rather than simply forcing yourself to work all the time. As a disclaimer, be reminded that the moments when your energy is low does not always equate to no productivity done; it could mean that you could spend your time doing less urgent, casual tasks such as going through emails. Click here for an article which shows you the process of calculating your BPT. It may be tedious, but will be worth it!

4. Drink water (and perhaps caffeine)

Stay hydrated! Drinking water helps to boost energy and brainpower (specifically, reaction time) by 14%, according to research. This will help you to fight brain fatigue so that you can stay productive. When your body is hydrated, the grey matter in your brain expands and enables you to stay focused for extended periods of time. This is useful for those looking to enter the flow state, as keeping your mind on task without your mind struggling to is key. Keep a bottle of water nearby as you work so you can quench your thirst on the go without worrying about disrupting your flow of work.

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Another study by Coffee & Health shows that caffeine, when consumed in a certain amount, can help you develop a ‘Flow State’ as it improves work performance. Not only does caffeine help a person to stay alert and awake, but it also helps you to improve your focus and motivates you to get the job done. Recent findings say coffee may help decrease anxiety, which helps you gain a tranquil state of mind. This is exactly what is needed for you to enter the flow state, as you are aiming to work in a peaceful manner without overthinking what you are doing. This doesn't warrant downing mug after mug of coffee, though — be sure to find a balance where you consume not too much caffeine, but not too little either. Of course, this only applies if drinking coffee is your thing!

5. It should be a challenge - but not too stressful!

Lastly, the task you're working on should be a bit of a challenge to you, but not to the point where it unleashes a lot of frustration and stress as you do it. To put it simply, the tasks that you work on should require some effort and brainpower to complete, yet are still doable without pushing your mind to its limit. This is so that while you are working, your subconscious knows that the end goal is attainable and will look forward to feeling the satisfaction upon its completion. Making challenges a component of your work also allows your brain to develop better focus and concentration on your job, hence allowing you to work in the flow state a lot better.

However, as mentioned before, these tasks should not be too challenging as it will only cause stress and tension. Negative emotions that are often associated with work such as will only disrupt your rhythm of work and take you further away from ‘the zone’. If the task is difficult, break the task down into smaller, manageable chunks or have a resource that can assist you at the ready. For those seeking to utilise the flow state, it is important to find that balance so that you can benefit from a steady rhythm of work without internally complaining the whole time.

Just do it! Once you get started, the easier it is. Hopefully, with these tips, you can become a productivity guru and make the most of your days, so more work is done in less time!

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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