If you’re doing work that you love and focus on tasks that are challenging but not too difficult, then you’ve probably noticed that you sometimes fall into a time-out-of-time state when you can knock out a lot of work without much effort. In fact, you become so absorbed in what you’re doing that an hour feels like ten minutes. Psychologists call these wonderful, focused times, “flow states.”
Flow states, as defined by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi after interviewing artists, musicians, athletes, and other people who fell into a rapturous state while performing their best work, is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”
Unfortunately, you probably only get into this magical state of mind at work on rare occasions. The good news is that flow states aren’t necessarily happy accidents. Here are some things that you can do to increase your likelihood of getting into flow states at work so that you can happily do your best work quickly.
If you’re procrastinating, find out why you’re doing it. Forcing yourself to work when you just can’t get motivated to do anything is counterproductive. Perhaps you’re procrastinating because you’re comparing yourself unfavorably with others, or you’ve set unrealistic goals for yourself, or you’re working when you’re in an energetic slump, or you’re not managing your time well. Find out why you are procrastinating so that you can take proactive measures to get motivated again.
Control Indoor Climate
You’re much more able to be productive if you’re comfortable in your office. If it’s too hot or cold, then you won’t be able to focus on what you’re doing. Instead, you’ll focus on how hot or cold you feel. So, at this time of the year, with many hot days still ahead of us, it’s important to have good air conditioning.
Good air conditioning (AC) is essential for helping you stay focused on your work. It’s difficult to get much work done if you find the heat unbearable. So, if your AC isn’t working, then it’s a good idea to get it fixed. If, for example, your AC smells bad, it isn’t something you should ignore because it’s a sign that there may be a problem with the drip tray or the cabin air filter.
Reduce Interruptions and Cut Out Distractions
It’s difficult to get into a flow state when you’re interrupted by other people or distracted by digital devices. When you get down to work, turn off all your smartphone notifications and let all incoming phone calls go straight to voicemail. If it’s possible, close your door and hang up a “do not disturb sign.” If you’re in an environment where you can’t take such liberties, then speak to colleagues accustomed to interrupting you when you’re at work, asking them to give you some space so that you can finish your project. In short, identify all the things that might pull you away from your work and do your best to minimize interruptions and eliminate distractions.
Enjoy Your Work
Your attitude has a lot to do with whether you slip into a flow state. If you’re focusing on meeting a deadline or wondering if your work is good enough, or trying too hard to do everything perfectly, then your self-critical attitude will prevent you from getting into the relaxed state necessary for you to enjoy your work. Focus on all the things you enjoy about the task at hand and try to clear everything else from your mind. If, for instance, you’re coding, focus on the creative aspects of your work rather than worrying if your boss or customer will like it.
Keep Practicing Getting Into a Flow State
The more you practice getting into a flow state, the easier it will be. You’ll eventually reach a point where you can minimize all environmental distractions and internal expectations and just focus on the joy of doing the work itself.