- What is the flow state?
- Don’t work hard, work smart!
- 7 steps to achieve the flow state
After joining Nordic Startup School as a mentor in spring 2020, Jussi Venäläinen wrote us an article explaining why flow know-how is one of the most essential skills in the working life of the 2020s and how to apply it into running your startup and improve your productivity.
Running a start-up is a track of fast learning. When you lack the resources you have to be smarter and learn rapidly from everything you do. Quick learning can be boosted, and the flow state is one of the best remedies to increase productivity, creativity, learning, and motivation.
The Flow State
“In all our studies of extreme performance improvement, the people and organizations who covered the most distance in the shortest time were always the ones who were tapping into a passion and finding flow.” says John Hagel, co-founder of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge.
Salim Ismail, Founding Executive Director of Singularity University, has said that those start-ups, who succeed and end up on the top 10 per cent, are those whose employees experience the most flow. It is no coincidence that in Silicon Valley, you can see the best achievements of the flow state.
“In two hours in flow, I can accomplish tremendous things.” — Sir Richard Branson.
In a flow state, you can totally absorb and focus on the thing you are doing.
It is no exaggeration to say that time flies. You get the best use of your cognitive abilities, and even though you might be doing a hard task, it feels effortless.
Flow state is when you do your best and feel your best.
About hard work
We all have heard stories about how you have to work hard when running a business or startup….some people even have their faith in the idea of “strugglepreneurship”
We all have heard stories about how you have to work hard when running a business or startup. We have Vaynerchuck & co preaching how you have to struggle, some people even have their faith in the idea of “strugglepreneurship”.
Of course, there will be some struggle on the road, but it’s not the goal itself.
Not so long ago, when most of our work is manual labour, it was quite straightforward to increase productivity: work faster or more hours.
When we then moved to the modern era and knowledge work, we forgot that the same mentality can’t be applied anymore. It does not matter how many thoughts you have during a day, only their quality.
We still try to apply the attitude of hard work to knowledge work. This has made our working life chaotic, making us live in a culture of a hurry. Even though we aim to be more productive, we manage to do the opposite.
I was born into a blue-collar family, and of course, was taught to work hard.
Nothing bad in hard work itself, but If I had also worked wisely, I might have avoided a couple of near burnouts and one bankruptcy.
I was like most of the people in working life — I drove too fast with a low gear. As a result, my motor, aka the brain, got overloaded and made a lot of emissions in a mode of stress and anxiety. I’m sure we all know what those end up doing to creativity and learning.
“Flow doesn’t just provide a joyful, self-directed path toward mastery — it literally shortens the path.” — Steven Kotler, Flow State Expert
Working hard is quite easy; you only have to put in the hours.
In a simplified example, if you sell your know-how, it might be enough for you to be skilful in your craft and do the hours. Unfortunately, this does not apply to running a startup, which is a very complex sport.
It’s not only about the quality of the product, but it’s also about the quality of how you think of your business model, marketing, financing, et cetera. Many times, startups don’t have much time to find the right pieces to their puzzle.
When you are running a startup, hard work does not give you an advantage in the market. You also need to be able to have breakthrough ideas and to notice details in your data.
For that, you need the time and space for high-quality thinking. You also need to diligently and continuously fine-tune your business model again and again. All this brings us to flow know-how.
7 steps to master flow know-how
It is one of the most essential skills in the working life of the 2020s
Flow know-how consists of theory, skills, and self-knowledge:
- Theory means knowing what flow state is and what its triggers are.
- Skill is the practical know-how; how to create the proper working conditions.
- Self-knowledge is about knowing yourself and how you can achieve the flow state.
The first two are universal and easy to teach, but the last one is in your own hands. Flow is a broad subject, but here are some basic principles of how to facilitate it:
1. Find proper alertness
You need just the proper level of readiness for working — not too low or too high.
Sleep, nutrition, training, and meditation are the core pieces for making appropriate undertones for work.
If you dope, for example, with caffeine, do it only for a need, not from a habit; otherwise, your previously sharp tool becomes dull.
2. Improve focus
Flow follows focus, so do whatever you can to focus better.
Minimize all interruptions, keep your head empty by not using your mind as a clipboard, and don’t multitask. The latter one especially is the enemy of flow state.
Also, remember to always define what is “good enough” before you start working.
3. Challenge yourself
The flow needs a challenge. Try to find the sweet spot of challenge and your skill level, and fine-tune it during the working day.
When you are feeling tired, lower the difficulty, and do vice versa when you are focused.
4. Work wisely
As we have gone through, working hard is not enough. It’s crucial to use the scarce time resources to the most essential. This happens only via planning, so plan your work on a daily and weekly level.
Also, try to find your rhythm and notice when you do your best work — for most of us, it’s mornings. Whenever it is, allocate that time for complex problem solving and creative stuff, and then assign that not-so-efficient time for messaging, meetings, and routine work. Try to find concentrated, “deep work” time in every workday (or at least many times a week) to get things done and to do quality work.
5. Build trust
Flow is a vulnerable state because, in the flow state, you are expressing yourself the most.
If you need to be on the look-out about what other people think of you and your ideas, it creates a blockage for the flow state.
So try to build trust in your team as much as you can.
6. Cultivate creativity
Self-expression and doing something unique is a notable driver for flow.
Try to keep your environment abundant so that your creativity has material to flourish.
Remember also to have fun.
7. Know your “why”
Having clear goals is one of the flow’s preconditions.
When you know why you do what you do, it’s easier to reflect the actions to the vision.
Also, ensure that everyone in your team knows what it means in practice.
Now you are familiar with the basics of flow know-how. If you want to know more, you can find blogs, videos, and podcasts in www.flow-akatemia.fi (only in Finnish). For those further interested, make sure to order also my book about flow state in knowledge work: Flow-tila — Tietotyön viisain vaihde.
Flow Akatemia helps organizations, entrepreneurs and knowledge workers enter and create the conditions for flow
Work hard, work wise. May the flow be with you.
At Nordic Startup School we believe everybody has something to share with and learn from others, therefore we create a network of mentors with various backgrounds and expertise, match them with startups and together we grow the ecosystem.
If you want to share your knowledge, stories, help others and get help from others, sign-up to our mentor pool HERE!