The flow channel is a state in which you are so focused on an activity that time seems to fly.
Not all tasks are enjoyable or easy to follow through on.
When we encounter these kinds of tasks, it can be easy to sit there for hours and get little to no work done. Without incentive or engagement, being productive is near impossible.
But you don’t have to let this lack of focus and productivity become the norm. All you have to do is learn how to achieve flow and stay in your flow channel.
If you’re looking to get lost in your work and achieve more, let’s walk through how you can reach flow and maintain it.
What Is the Flow Channel?
Have you ever worked on a task, only to lose track of time and become absorbed in your work? Have you ever been so focused that someone or something had to snap out of your trance?
If so, then you have already achieved flow in the past.
Often referred to as “being in the zone”, flow happens when you become immersed in your work. Everything in the world falls away and you are left only with the task that is in front of you. With flow, you can maintain an intense focus for longer periods and achieve more.
The concept of flow on its own is amazing. However, there is one more valuable resource in Mihaly’s book that you should pay close attention to. This resource? Mihaly’s flow channel chart, which you can see below.
Let’s imagine for a second that the state of flow is like a river. As all rivers are, you are surrounded by land on either side of you. On the left, we have anxiety and stress. On the right, boredom. When we start drifting to either side of the river, we are at risk of crashing and getting stuck.
The goal of achieving flow is to ride this flow channel for as long as possible.
If we start to let any external factors affect our flow, we run the risk of losing our progress.
If you’re looking to ride the river each time you approach a challenge, here’s how you can stay in the zone.
Balancing Boredom and Stress
Staying in your flow channel begins with having a better understanding of the task in front of you.
Your boss gives you a task to produce a financial report.
If you have a fair amount of experience in accounting, your skillset is at the level needed to get the right start. However, that is not to say that you are going to experience flow.
If your skill level surpasses that of your task, you may become too bored and lose your flow. If you experience stress because the task is too demanding, the overwhelming challenge can ruin your flow as well.
To stay in your flow channel, you must have enough stress to stay engaged but not enough to take you out of your zone.
Like it is with most things, you must maintain a healthy balance of stress to flow through your tasks.
That said, balancing stress is not the only thing you will need to do if you want to achieve flow.
We need to know how to enter the flow state itself.
How to Enter the Flow State With Ease
Entering the flow channel requires you to reach a flow state first.
As I stated above, the best way to accomplish this is to find the perfect mix of stress and engagement.
That said, these aren’t the only necessary aspects of achieving flow.
To make it easier for you to get there, here are some great tips for entering the flow state with ease.
Engage in More Tasks That You Love (or Find Ways to Love Them)
It’s easier to achieve flow and stay in your flow channel when you are doing tasks you love. You may have already noted this when working on a personal project or activity.
Unfortunately, we often need flow for the things we may not enjoy as much.
To make these projects easier to flow with, find ways to love them. Are you providing value to someone by doing this task? Are you picking up new skills with the activity in front of you?
Finding intrinsic value in your tasks can help you reach flow easier, even for tasks you may not love doing.
Find Ways to Incentivize Yourself
Knowing that you are being rewarded for your work helps you get more into the work you are doing.
Whether this comes in the form of internal or external motivators, you need to have something driving you to stay focused.
Figure out how you can incentivize yourself for each task if you want to reach a flow state with less effort. It doesn’t matter if its money or the joy of doing the work. As long as it pushes you to do your tasks, it works.
Plan Out Work Ahead of Time
Multitasking is a well-known productivity killer. If you’re worried about other tasks or switching tasks while working, you can’t flow.
You can overcome this by planning your work ahead of time.
Sit down each day or week and figure out what you will need to do before you do it (or during your weekly review).
Then, approach each task knowing that it is the only task you need to take care of at that moment. This will help you move onto each task with the same deep focus.
Set Specific Goals
Those who reach a flow state know exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. That said, not everyone has clear-cut goals.
Take some time to look at your tasks and set goals for them. Why are you doing these tasks? Where is it taking you? How can you use your work to reach your personal and professional goals?
Set clear goals, apply deadlines, and work towards your future. Having goals can be a major motivator and an easy way to eliminate distractions.
Fall in Love With the Process
Having goals can motivate you to finish tasks. However, enjoying the process of doing a task can help you achieve flow.
No matter what work you may be doing, figure out what you love about it. Is there something in the task that you are passionate about? Is there a system that you can use to make doing it easier or more enjoyable? Do you like doing the activity normally?
While we are often focused on the end product, getting something done can be just as great.
Learn how to fall in love with the act of doing something and you will learn how to flow with it naturally.
You can’t stay in your flow channel if you are tired, sad, or otherwise not up to the task. It’s important that you are not only setting yourself up for success but listening to your body as well.
Work when you feel full of energy, upbeat, and are ready to get work done. If you try pushing when you aren’t able to do so, you will only make it harder to reach a flow state.
Remove Potential Distractions
Deep focus and deep work are only possible when you can give your full attention to your task. If you are in an area where distractions abound, you are going to lose your focus.
You can avoid distractions by dedicating your space to work. Silence your phone, keep your area clean, and save socializing for your breaks.
When it is only you and your tasks, you are more likely to lose yourself in them.
Don’t Take Work So Seriously
Having fun serves to make work more enjoyable and doable.
Although you shouldn’t have so much fun that you get distracted, there are ways to make work better. Some examples may include listening to music, turning tasks into a game, or changing up your workspace.
If your task is something that you can do with others, you may want to work with a group to further motivate yourself. Let yourself like the things you are doing. Your mind will thank you.
The flow channel, like a river, requires the right tools to navigate. Plan ahead, know where you’re going, and most importantly, have fun.
Growing Your Flow By Pushing Limits
A healthy mix of challenges and rewards helps you get in the zone and boost your productivity.
What many forget, however, is that you should also be focused on improving the process each time. If you never improve your skills, you will hit a ceiling when trying to stay in the flow channel. This will cause you to stop working at the same point each time.
You can combat this by looking to grow your skills to make difficult tasks easier to do.
Every time you begin feeling too much stress, ask yourself: “Why am I feeling this way?“
Is there a certain part of the project that is difficult for you? Are you taking on too much at once? Is there something that you need to learn to do your tasks better?
Remember, you achieve flow when your skills match your task and your task challenges you.
Apply too little or too much pressure and you run the risk of losing your flow. In this case, you will want to learn new skills to overcome additional pressure.
Whatever may be the obstacle to maintaining your flow, seek out solutions for it. Then, do what you need to so that you can overcome that problem.
When you go to tackle a similar task next time, you will be better equipped to maintain your flow for longer. Although we may not be able to stay in our flow channel all day, we can find ways to extend it for as long as possible.
Staying in the flow channel is all about reaching and maintaining your flow state for as long as possible.
You can get more out of your flow state by:
- Knowing How to Spark Focus and Interest. You can’t stay in the zone if you don’t know how to first get in the zone. Avoiding distractions, setting goals, and planning ahead are all great ways to help you prepare for individual tasks. To stay motivated, look for rewards either within the tasks or things you receive by doing them. With the right setup and motivation, you have the recipe for flow.
- Challenging Yourself While Avoiding Significant Stress. Once you reach a flow state, all you have to do is maintain it. You can stay in the flow channel by tackling challenging tasks that hold your interest. At the same time, make sure that you are not stressing yourself out too much. This can lead to burnout and cause you to lose your flow. Find the sweet spot between stress and boredom to get the best results.
- Looking to Constantly Grow and Improve Your Skills. We can’t get more out of flow if we are not looking to improve our skills. You should always be looking to push the limits that prevent you from staying in the flow channel. Whenever you encounter an issue in your tasks that stops you from moving forward, take a mental note. Then, when you have time, find creative ways around that problem and learn new skills. When you come back to the tasks that challenge you more, you can apply what you’ve learned to push your current limits.
Everyone wants to lose themselves in their work. The good news is that anyone can.
As long as you know how to reach a flow state, keep that flow, and apply flow to all areas of your life, you are ready to start to be more productive.
Next time you feel like you are struggling with tasks, use the guide above to promote more flow within your day.