Find Your Flow: How finding your flow leads to an increase in productivity


Can you recall the last time you were so engaged in an activity or task that time froze in its path and slowly melted away while the sounds around you faded into the distance? Perhaps you were writing, painting, exercising, playing an instrument or solving a problem. You may have felt so immersed in the process and enjoyment of it, that you lost sense of your surroundings. For athletes this mental state of complete focus and attention is often referred to as being in ‘The Zone.’ For Psychologists this optimal state of mind is known as flow.

What is flow?

Psychologist Mihaly Cszikszentmihalyi, one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology, discovered that flow was a mental state of complete focused attention. In his book, ‘Flow: The psychology of optimal experience’ (2008), Professor Cszikszentmihalyi describes flow as, “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” He found that flow, or being in a state of flow, was linked to wellbeing, life satisfaction and overall happiness as well as productivity and motivation in the professional workplace.

In his 2004 TED Talk, Cszikszentmihalyi used seven characteristics to describe how it feels to be in a state of flow. These were describe as:

  1. Being completely involved and immersed in the task or activity we are engaging with- attentive, focused and concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy
  3. Great inner clarity- to know what needs to be completed and aware of how well we are doing
  4. Knowing that the activity is possible to complete- that our skills are adequate enough for the task at hand
  5. Sense of serenity- to go beyond the boundaries of our egos
  6. Timelessness- so focused that we lose the sense of time
  7. Intrinsic motivation- the task that produces flow becomes its own award

Flow does not just occur randomly. It is common to believe that when we are lost in passive and relaxing activities, such as reading a book or binge watching our favourite television series, that we are in a state of flow because the activity we are engaged in is so enjoyable that we lose sense of time and space. However, being in a state of flow requires us to work hard where our bodies and minds are pushed to their limits to achieve a worthwhile goal. For an athlete, this could be beating a personal or world record, for a writer it could be publishing a book and for a musician, this could be mastering a new song. It is seeking opportunities and challenging ourselves.

 The Power of flow

 Flow has many benefits on our well-being and overall satisfaction with life and happiness. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the human mind can process up to 120 bits of information per second. Our minds reach full capacity when it is being stretched during a task we’re good at and once we have achieved the goal in that task, and we’ve identified how to tap into the state of heightened attention, we are more likely to reinforce that habit for productivity. The more we are able to cultivate flow in our lives, the more productive we can become and the more we are able to achieve.

In her TED Talk, musician Dian Allen says that “flow is contagious,” so when we are in that positive space of concentration, the energy and benefits pass onto the people around us. A study in the US revealed that the experience of flow had a positive effect on the work environment. The researchers found that a challenging and enriching workspace with tasks that promoted experiences of flow in its employees achieved higher levels of motivation and company productivity.

 How to cultivate flow

Many of us have been in the flow state without actually realising it. You don’t have to sit around and wait for it to happen. This state of mind can be intentional and brought on by taking action to cultivate it.

Identifying and cultivating the conditions that lead us to a state of flow depends on the individual’s efforts to get there and achieve it or the culture of the company they work for when they are in a professional working environment. Here are 5 simple tasks to foster flow.

  1. Choose one task- multitasking is a myth. Place all your focus on one task or activity for your concentration and attention to be fully centered in what you are doing without the distraction of a million other things going on.
  2. Make sure it’s a task you enjoy- if it is something you dread, you will find it challenging to lose yourself in it and spend more time checking the clock and counting down when it is going to end. In this instance, you will be less productive.
  3. Choose a task that is challenging but not impossible- a task that is way beyond your skill set may become stressful and discouraging. Ensure the task is something that will push, and as you find your flow find something a little more challenging than the last task. Take it one step at a time.
  4. Clear away the distractions- turn off the television and social media. Allow yourself to be fully immersed in the activity without checking your phone every 5 minutes.
  5. Reap the rewards- allow yourself to enjoy it, appreciate it and motivate yourself to complete more tasks.

Whilst this all sounds so simple, it does require attention. It is not as easy as expecting your mind to focus and complete through all the tasks. It takes time to seek and find those hours of productivity and recognise your mental cues, but it is all worth it.

Header Image by ‘Burst’ from Pexels Image.