Reaching a State of Flow
You’ve probably seen the iconic Bruce Lee interview where he speaks on the value of becoming, “water, my friend.” While it’s certainly a cool interview, your goal shouldn’t be to become a teapot, nor is that the type of “flow” we’re talking about. The flow we’re talking about doesn’t deal with adaptability, but productivity. Reaching a state of flow means reaching a state of maximum production, where there are no distractions and work becomes easy. Your thoughts and actions flow effortlessly out of you. This isn’t some BS proverb (no offense Bruce), it is a real thing. Finding one’s flow isn’t something you only have to do once. It’s not like you’ll find it hiding under your desk and now you’ll flow forever. Finding flow is something you continually need to strive toward. There are no shortcuts, but if you’re able to grasp the following points, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a teapot.
GRASPING THE BENEFITS OF FLOW
You’ve probably experienced flow before and not realized, or not even known that what you were feeling was, in any way, special. In order to recreate flow, you need to be able to recognize when it’s happening and how it makes you feel.
If you’re still fuzzy on what flow is exactly, or think it sounds wonky, an article from Harvard Health Publishing says it beautifully: flow is, in simple terms, the meeting of a challenging task with an equal level of skill. Even if you’ve never thought about it deliberately, if you’ve ever felt in the zone, you’ve experienced it. When you’re in a flow state, as Harvard’s journal mentions, you lose track of time, aren’t interrupted by outside thoughts, and are genuinely engaged with the task at hand. Flow doesn’t only make you more efficient, it also makes you happier and more fulfilled. This state can transfer beyond working and into your personal life as well. You may have experienced it when preparing a meal or playing an instrument or sport.
FINDING ORGANIC FLOW
Before we can manufacture a state of flow, we have to figure out in what situations we reach flow organically. The first question you may be asking is “when do I do the best work?” Well you’re a freelancer, so clearly you’ve figured out that the traditional 9-5, 40-hour workweek, is not the right fit for you. But with more freedom, comes more choice. It’s up to you to figure out what times and days are optimal.
You may find that you’re most productive first thing in the morning. You love to get up at 7:00 am and start work immediately because the mornings are where you’re most alert (and potentially when the house is the quietest if you’re a parent). On the other hand, you may be a natural night owl who wants to start the day at 1:00 pm and work into the wee hours of the night. Are there certain days you prefer not to work? Do you enjoy a mid-day break? Do you feel most energized after a nap? There’s no wrong answer here; it’s about finding what works for you. Don’t know when you’re most productive? Give a few different routines a try!
Once you have a good idea of what flow does for you, and the natural rhythms that lead you to it, you can recreate flow. Nail down your routine so you consistently hit your flow state every day. If that sounds too easy, it’s because it is. One of the elements that often creates a state of flow is spontaneity. Something about a moment or a mood strikes you and BOOM, you’re flowing. This is of course impossible to schedule. “So what was the point of figuring out my preferred work periods?” One’s schedule is only one part of the formula. In order to recreate flow, we need to create a situation in which that spontaneous bolt of lighting is most likely to occur. Scheduling is a big part of that, but so is your state of mind, your desk chair, the meals you ate that day, and even the weather. Once you’ve found the stream your thoughts naturally flow down, you want do everything you can to remove obstacles out of their way. This creates the highest chance that stream of thoughts will reach an ocean of ideas. If coffee helps you focus, maybe you have a cup or two right before you start working. If you like to be relaxed when working, try taking a break to meditate. If the thing that prevents you from working is a whole lot of pent-up energy, do a workout every morning. Finding and encouraging your flow state won’t only give you a higher chance of reaching flow, it will make you a better, more productive, worker in general.
Know that flow isn’t going to happen every day. It can be a tough thing to master, and there’s plenty more to learn about it than what we’ve discussed here. Even if you’re not a master of flow overnight, simply attempting to flow regularly will make you more and efficient and more fulfilled. Also, if there’s a day you feel like it just isn’t coming, that’s totally fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t always have to be flowing. Now that you’ve created currents to promote flow, you can jump in and out of them whenever you need.