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  • April 05, 2022 5 min read

    We’ve all been through a productive streak before: an amazing moment where we feel like the work we’re doing is effortless. In fact, we don’t even feel like it’s “work” at all! We enjoy ourselves so much that we hardly notice anything else, not even the passage of time, functioning on autopilot and breezing through what would have been a taxing endeavor any other day. 

    On the other hand, a lot of us have experienced the reverse. As the saying goes, the struggle is real and it is! During our less productive moments, no matter how hard we try to focus or get things done, despite our best efforts to make headway, working can seem like running through muck. The harder we claw at the cesspool around us in order to finish what we need to do, the more frustrating the process becomes. If only there was a way to go back to being productive at will… and there is! 

    Contrary to popular belief, there are measures we can take to get ourselves out of an unproductive slump. No more waiting for “inspiration to strike” or something along the lines; we have more control over when we get into the flow state, a term created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that describes the optimal experience, than we think. We’re already capable of being completely focused, performing at our best and so absorbed in our work, that we forget about the concept of time. Now, all we have to do is look at the situations and circumstances that we can emulate to help ourselves get there. 

    In today’s article, here are four things you can do that will ease you into—and allow you to stay in—the productive flow!

     

    1. Know when you’re in the flow state. 

    The only way you can stay in the flow is to know when you’re actually in it! And while it can be tricky in the beginning since flow is different for everyone, it’s totally possible to tell. In a previous article where we briefly talked about it, reaching such a state usually requires a fine balance between your skill level and the challenging task or activity you’re tackling. We put it this way: “You need to stretch yourself beyond your current level of skill, but not too much that you will break. If your level of skill is higher than the challenges of the task, you can become bored. If your skills are lower than the challenges, you can suffer from performance anxiety.”

    Other more specific examples is finding yourself so immersed in what you’re working on that you don’t even notice the early evening setting in, only to be surprised that it’s already dark outside. Or you’ve been busy with activities like writing or painting that you never heard the notifications from your phone as they came in. 

    However, beware of moments or activities that only feel like you’re in the flow; watching Netflix or reading a book are just two examples. The distinction here is that you’re an active participant and not a passive one consuming information when you’re in the flow state.  

     

    2. Identify what time of day you’re most productive. 

    We always read about how to be successful ourselves, we have to take a page out of the things that successful people do. So if they wake up early, we should do the same. But here’s what they don’t tell you, especially if you’re not really an early riser or don’t work a normal schedule: unless you’re someone who calls the shots and has full control over your entire day, waking up too early and staying long hours awake can cause sleep deprivation so doing this actually does more damage to you mentally and physically. It’s all about balance—waking up early means sleeping early, but if all it does for you is keep you from getting enough sleep, then you’re not really getting any benefit. 

    That being said, it’s important to figure out what works for you. If you don’t get enough rest, you won’t function at your best and it will be impossible to get in the flow since it will be a challenge to focus. So give it some thought: based on the schedule available to you, when are you most productive? Some people can easily emulate what “successful” persons do and find that an early start is perfect for their flow state. But there are also others who get more done in the afternoon or at night. Choose the time that best suits the type of life you lead and work around it. 

     

    3. Take advantage of routines.  

    Majority of our days are spent making decisions. Whether big or small, they can cause us stress, which can impair our ability to find happiness and satisfaction in the things we do. It also goes without saying that stress can make it harder for us to maintain the focus we need to arrive at a flow state. And even though it’s simply a part of life, it doesn’t mean we always have to live with it! To eliminate unnecessary stress, set the mood by way of creating a routine. 

    Routines are beneficial for a number of reasons: it can cut down on the decisions you have to make everyday. Whether it’s a choice between having breakfast first over getting dressed or what clothes to wear, once you have a routine in place, not only do you give yourself room to make more important decisions, you’re able to manage stress and keep it to a minimum. But that’s not all! Routines ease you into the flow state. Once you establish one that leads up to productive work, then you can reuse this same routine to set the mood until it takes you little effort to reach peak performance. 

     

    4. Manage distractions. 

    Although the technology we have now is useful and convenient, allowing us to stay connected 24/7 so that we can do more wherever we may be and whenever we need to, there’s a downside to our digital world: distractions. Nothing can disrupt your focus as quickly as a notification—from your email, social media, or any app installed on your device—which means if you’re in the flow, then you’ll easily get pulled out of it. This makes managing distractions important; click here are for a few ideas on how to keep distractions at bay. 

    It’s important to note that simply being reactive isn’t going to cut it. In order to help your future self, take a more proactive approach: turn on Do Not Disturb, stay away from temptation, block off times to check your email so you don’t have to deal with them as they come in… it’s a long list. The point is, there’s a whole lot you can do to minimize potential distractions if you really want to make the most out of the flow state. If you’re already in it, surely you’ll want to maintain it as long as needed. 

     

    Conclusion

    Being productive and staying in the flow state that allows us to be so is doable as long as we find ways to make it happen. Although we arrive in said state by chance, it’s something we can recreate with the help of the above steps. 

    How does your own flow state look like? How did your most productive day look like and what were you able to achieve? Share you stories below—we’d love to hear from you! 

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