When writing this newsletter, the first thing I did was to switch off my phone. Once I let my team know that my phone was off, I now had only one thing to do – write with complete focus.
But why am I doing this? Just for productivity? Not really.
Productivity is a great side benefit but the real benefit for me is ‘flow’, a joyful state where you are so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time.
Flow is one of the secrets of a happy life. And it is not something one can experience only once or twice in a lifetime – we can experience flow on a daily basis.
That is what today’s newsletter is about.
But let me first quickly touch upon the scientific research behind flow.
In the 1970s, a Hungarian American psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was investigating a question that has intrigued us for long: What makes us happy?
But instead of speculating about the answer, Csikszentmihalyi did something really smart – he got a bunch of people and gave them pager devices that would buzz at random times during the day.
Whenever the pager buzzed, the people were instructed to fill out a questionnaire, which asked about their happiness levels and what they were doing at that time.
Surprisingly, people reported being really happy not while watching TV or doing some leisure activities – instead, it was during effortful activity in which they were so absorbed that they even lost track of time.
That complete absorption in the task is what we call the flow state – some people even call it being ‘in the zone.’
I will not talk more about the research, which you are welcome to check out. But let us now talk about how we can create the flow state in our daily lives.
- The first thing you need is some task you need to complete – even your day-to-day work is perfectly fine (as long as you don’t hate it so much that it creates aversion). That should be really easy, no?
- Next, ideally have some specific short-term goal for your chosen activity. E.g., “In the next two hours, I will complete 10 pages of the presentation.”
When your mind is seeking a clear goal, it is less likely to wander. A clear goal creates a kind of artificial deadline – in fact, deadlines are great for creating a flow state as long as they are doable.
- The task you choose should demand your full skill and focus, but should not be so hard that it feels undoable.
When the task is too easy, you get bored and your mind will wander. If it is too hard, you will get anxious and not be able to focus. So pick something that is doable but non-trivial.
- Get rid of all possible distractions. Switch off your phone or at least put it away. Close all unnecessary browser tabs. Resolve to work only on the chosen task. Now you are ready to get started.
What I have found is that as soon as you start making progress, your mind calms down, and anxiety plummets – you get into a meditative state.
And there is good science behind why flow is so calming. When your mind is fully absorbed in an activity, it shuts off your brain’s default mode network and stops your mind-wandering – a source of a lot of our anxiety.
In fact, the father of positive psychology, Prof. Martin Seligman, has identified 5 core elements of our well-being and flow is one of them.
Every day (or as frequently as possible), let us pick a task for an hour, put away our phones and other distractions, and let it flow 🙂
This is not a theoretical idea but something I have personally experienced and what we also offer in our ‘Deep Work and Flow’ bootcamp.
Focused work is the ultimate source of joyful productivity. And it is within everyone’s reach – let us grab it.
Also, don’t take my word for it – try it out for yourself. Your experience will never lie.
Hope you enjoyed reading this.