I used to work 8 hours a week at my 9–5 and then get home and work 5 pm -11 pm. I was exhausted. But I told myself this is what I needed to do if I wanted to be successful.
Confession time, I was probably consuming a little too much Gary V back then.
But I was obsessed with this idea that I needed to put in A LOT of work if I was ever going to make it. It got to the point where if I wasn’t working I thought I was wasting time.
It turns out I was wasting time. But not by working.
It turns out I didn’t need a lot of deep work, I just needed 1 hour of flow state working.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, started his working life with a fascination for happiness. In his early days, he was surrounded by tragedies from World War II, he noticed how many people found it really difficult to manage post-World War II.
He became obsessed with people who could find happiness and as such he noticed that creative people tended to enter this state of untouchability.
“Where in everyday life, in normal experience do we feel really happy? To start those studies, about 40-years ago, I started looking at creative people” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
He used that thought process to discover something that we are all familiar with today — the flow-state.
A flow state, more commonly known as ‘being in the zone’, is a type of mental state. In this case, it is defined as being completely immersed in whatever the activity at hand is. This state had been given various names over the years but today we know it most commonly as flow.
Csikszentmihalyi characterized the flow-state as having eight key features:
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
You’ve probably been in the flow-state before. It’s that sense of feeling like nothing in the world exists apart from where you are right now in your work.
You feel this power at your fingertips and feel as though this is exactly what you should be doing with your time.
In extreme cases, Csikszentmihaly noted that artists got so lost in their work that they forgot their basic human needs such as food and water. This sometimes happens to me when writing. I lose all track of time.
Often people say their flow-state creates their best work and it’s that getting into their flow is when they are most productive.
So how do you get into your flow state? What mechanisms can we put in place to achieve flow quicker and easier to allow us to fulfill our aspirations each day?
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)
1. Get away from distraction.
2. Make sure the goal is manageable and achievable.
3. Prime yourself to do the work
Here’s what people get wrong all the time.
They think you need to work 7 hours a day in your flow state to move the needle. If you’ve got a 9–5 job that means skipping dinner or going without sleep.
You shouldn’t be doing any of those things. You should absolutely be eating dinner and definitely getting enough sleep. Here’s a new way to think: you don’t need 7 hours a day inflow, you need 1 hour of flow state thinking. That’s it.
1 hour of flow state thinking for me means drafting two articles and writing a tweet thread. If I can do that one a day, five days a week, and commit to my newsletter, I’m sure I’ll make it as a creator, if I give it 7 years. Or maybe 10. The top creators are producing much more than that.
I’ve used this model (minus the Tweets) for more or less 2 years now and I’ve written over 450 articles in that time. My plan is to double that in the next 12 months.
Studies into the neuropsychological aspects of flow have been few and far between, however, Arne Dietrich indicated decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex upon entering the flow state.
The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brains responsible for high cognitive function activities like self-reflection or as the image below details “thinking about thinking”.
For anyone that overthinks quite a lot, I imagine your brain will be lighting up quite significantly in this area. The downregulation of this part of the brain though means you lose that sense of self and just focus on the task at hand.
Your overthinking brain might be the reason you end up being less productive in general, you’re too busy thinking about your thinking rather than getting the task at hand done.
I overthink a lot.
I mean loads.
Flow solves this because it doesn’t allow for any distractions, funny cat videos are strictly off-limits. You have just yourself and the task at hand to tackle.
If you can manage to get into the flow state you won’t have to worry about funny cat videos because you will be so focused on the task at hand that you won’t give funny cats another thought.
Flow state is unapologetically tackling the soul thing you want to tackle. There is nothing but you and your task. This means that there is no room for time slippage or distraction, flow state takes care of that for you.
Flow-state is an important productivity tool. Often we think about time management, productivity tips, and effective productivity tools as a way to optimize productivity. Flow-state is different from all that.
It’s different because it is focused on the full immersion of the mind into a task and squeezing the absolute most productivity out of the time possible. If you can achieve just 1 hour of flow each day, you will see a huge improvement in your overall productivity.
So what are you waiting for?
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