Flow — A Secret to Productivity and Happiness

Imagine you are a professional skier during a national championship. As soon as you hear the shot, you speed down the mountain. You don’t think, you just move. You are fully focussed, but it feels like you don’t need to. Somehow, everything happens naturally. You forget both time and space around you. Only this second matters. You are in the moment.

A Primer on Flow

That is flow. Many professional race car drivers, swimmers, bikers and marathon runners report having exactly those experiences. Yet, obviously, those experiences are not limited to professional sportsmen. You can learn to have these experiences too when working or studying. One of my former coachees applies my flow techniques to university. She dedicates a whole day from morning to night to flow: No distractions, no phone, pure focus. That allows her to be free for the rest of the week, to focus on her own projects and to go travelling. Most interestingly, this actually helped her to improve her grade point average at one of Europe’s top universities.

Distractions Prevent Flow and Cause Severe Damage to the Brain

During flow phases, we can achieve in only a few hours what might need days of work when we are distracted and less focussed. While many scientific papers highlight the benefits or reaching flow and describe the perils of constant distraction, people these days find it increasingly difficult to reach flow and limit distractions. The miscreant behind all of that is once again the internet and all the permanent distractions it bears. Our mobile phones, our computer and the constant craving for something interesting to happen does not only prevent us from entering flow, but is also severely detrimental to our brains. There are hundreds of studies showing these negative effects such as loss of ability to focus, negative effects on our working memory, et cetera.

Practice the Art of Distraction-Free Working

The first step towards more efficiency is practicing the art of distraction-free working. This does not necessarily help you to achieve a state of flow automatically, but it is beyond discussion a necessary precursor to flow. This means: Switch your phone to flight mode, close your email applications, log-out of every social media account and make sure you are in an environment where no one can disturb you physically. Do not listen to music or watch something in the background. Even though listening to music might feel like helping you focus psychologically, physiologically it will not help you to achieve a state of flow.

Action Step

For this week, I have only one action step for you: Practice distraction-free working. Reserve at least one hour in your calendar every day that is completely distraction free. Also, look for hidden distractions and eliminate them. Those are the real productivity killers — and only conscious focus will teach you to detect them.

Sources

[1] Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.

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