Most creatives dream of those scarce days when we find the perfect state of flow– being fully immersed, in the zone, energized, where productivity is coming easily, naturally, freely. How do we get there? What does it take? Through a series of experiments and findings, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed that people are at their best when they are working hard and in the zone:
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Psychologist
A lot of people assume that relaxation makes us the most happy, drink in hand on a peaceful beach, but this is simply not true according to Dr. C. Along with fellow researchers Massimino and Carli, Csikszentmihalyi published this fascinating flow model in 1987 charting our mental state in varying stages of work based on challenge and skill level combinations. The higher the skill level required and the harder the challenge increasing likelihood of reaching a state of flow.
Author Cal Newport writes in his book Deep Work,
“To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing- a task that requires depth.”
So how do you find your state of flow to develop deep, meaningful work? Try these simple 5-sense changes in your own workspace:
▸ Sight. Clean your work surface to zen-status. File or recycle papers, remove anything you aren’t using, and wipe the surface clean.
▸ Sound. Consider the sounds around you. Is the tv on? Radio loud? Distracting noises? Try turning on soft music, using headphones, or better yet try playing binaural beats to reign in your focus.
▸ Smell. Aromatherapy does wonders to focus and relax the mind. Light a softly scented candle or open the window for fresh air.
▸ Touch. Make sure you are sitting somewhere comfortably. Consider a soft rug below your desk or a lumbar pillow behind your back. Adjust the room temperature.
▸ Taste. Hot tea? Lemon water? Hydrate and energize.
Now with your workspace in perfect order, you can begin:
▸ Ample Time. Carve out a large window of time distraction-free. Challenging work needs your time and attention. This may take planning ahead to batch task all small to-do items so you can work without anxiety.
▸ Distraction-free. Close off email, put your phone on silent. Let others know you have big tasks ahead to avoid intermittent distractions.
▸ Goals to Structure. Know what your goals are to maintain structure for your work time.
▸ Single Task. Make sure you are single-taking. Deep work takes focus.
Humans like challenge. We prefer to be challenged. Without the proper set up to do deep and meaningful work, our big goals and ideas get pushed back farther and farther, some never making it to fruition. So make it happen. Find your best state of flow and share with the world all the amazing things you have to offer.
Recommended reads: Flow The Psychology of Optimal Experience: Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, Deep Work: Cal Newport, 9 Rules for a Simpler Day: Leo Babauta, Getting Things Done: David Allen