Have you ever become so absorbed in your work, it was as if the rest of the world disappeared? If so, you have some experience with flow, a mental state often described by positive psychologists as total immersion in an activity. Also known as “being in the zone,” achieving flow is obviously a highly desirable goal for any worker. Who wouldn’t want to be happier at work, and also more productive?
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Of course, reaching a state of flow isn’t as easy as concentrating really hard or wishing it into being. Several things need to happen in order for most of us to get into the zone. These are a few things to try, if you keep finding yourself locked out:
1. Match your skills to the task.
“…flow is most likely to occur when your skill level is perfectly aligned to the challenge that the activity presents,” writes Kendra Cherry at VeryWell. “So a runner might experience flow during a marathon that he or she is well-prepared for, or a chess-player might reach this state during a game that presents the perfect challenge. In other words, gaining practice, experience and expertise in an activity will make it more likely that you will achieve flow in the future.”
For flow-seekers, this means two things: practice will help you perfect your quest for immersion, and if you want to be in the zone today, pick a task with which you’re familiar and practiced.
2. Don’t multitask.
To mix metaphors for a moment, it’s hard to get in the zone if you keep switching gears. Most people are not good at true multitasking, and switching tasks costs attention, focus, and energy. Do one thing at a time, and you’re more likely to do it well.
3. Set a time limit.
“Hitting flow is about reaching that sweet spot in challenge level between frustration and boredom,” writes Scott Young at Lifehack. “Great games know how to hit this spot to keep you engaged for hours. Why not do this with your work?”
Setting a time limit, Young suggests, can help make work more like a game, and thus more challenging. The goal is to make time short enough to motivate you, without sacrificing quality.
Shut down your messaging applications, turn off your email alerts, and hide your phone – if you want to get into the zone and stay there, you need to make sure that nothing pulls you out. Cubicle dwellers and open-plan office denizens may want to book a conference room for some heads-down work time, or else ask the boss if they can work at home for a day.
5. Work with your own strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re not a morning person, you’re probably not going to learn to become one by tomorrow at 9 a.m., so don’t plan your intensive work session for the early morning hours. The same goes if you’re an early-to-bed type; burning the midnight oil will only lead to bleary eyes and a fuzzy brain, not a state of flow.
You probably know by now when you’re at your best; work with yourself, not against yourself, and you’ll have a much better chance of hitting the sweet spot of productivity.
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