How to Reach Your Most Productive State of Mind
When there’s a lot of mind-boggling work on our agenda and we have to pull through all day, we need constant levels of mental energy in order to get it all done.
Especially when it’s important or challenging work, every lost bit of mental energy decreases the quality of results. Moreover, when people are emotionally unengaged with their work, their work
speed as well as work quality declines.
Therefore, the ideal state of mind to work in is the so-called “Flow”-state. This state not only sustains
mental energy and well-being, it finally makes us more productive and happy at work.
In 1975, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described the psychological concept of “Flow”. This state of
mind is characterized by the following experiences:
- Intense focus and concentration on the present moment,
- Merging of awareness and action,
- Loss of self-reflection,
- Sense of control over the activity,
- Loss of time-experience,
- Intrinsic reward of the activity (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990).
All those attributes are extremely helpful for working efficiently and effectively. According to that, Flow provides great concentration and control over the activity, and therefore ensures that we achieve the desired results in a minimum of time and with a maximum of quality. The better the concentration, the better the work.
Furthermore, we use up a minimum of mental energy when working in a state of Flow. The activity seems to go by itself, we see ourselves going through the motions nearly automatically – like flowing water.
The less mental energy is used up for a task, the higher and the faster the results come on the long term, because after quite a time of work, we’ll still have the mental ability to focus intensely on getting work done.
So – as mentioned – being in a state of Flow is the ideal state to get things done. But attaining it has some requirements…
How to reach a state of Flow
There are four major requirements needed for reaching Flow. The first one is a clear set of direction and goals (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990). So, to reach a state of Flow we must know where to go and what
to do. We won’t arrive anywhere if we don’t know the direction.
The second requirement is direct feedback (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990). Any action the person takes should give her direct feedback if the action leads to the desired outcome or goal. For example, a person playing golf recognizes if her swing was good or bad shortly after she executed it.
Another precondition for Flow is that the challenge of the activity must match the abilities (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990). Neither will we experience Flow in an activity that’s level of challenge is far exceeded by our abilities, nor in an activity which’s challenges are too high for our abilities.
If the task is too easy, we will experience boredom. If it’s too hard, we will be stressed out and anxious (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990). The task must represent a challenge that perfectly matches our abilities, not easier and not harder.
The last requirement – and maybe the most important one – is a distraction-free environment (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Any distraction will tear us out of our Flow-state. Entering the state again will take time where we could have achieved a lot of good and fast results.
How to reach Flow in a normal work environment
After all, the big question here is: How can we apply this into a normal work environment?
To meet the first requirement of a clear direction and process, we need to split up anything that must be achieved into small actionable steps.
That means, when the big-picture goal is set, we have to break it down into smaller goals and finally small one-by-one steps. This should be made so far, that every action has a clear place and time. The person working on the project should then know to any time exactly what to do and how to do it. This requires detailed planning.
That way, we can also make sure that the challenge of doing the work matches the abilities of the person doing the work.
For example, raising the company’s profits by 50% in one year is quite overwhelming to look at for one person. But broken down into small steps, one step could be choosing the marketing channels for the first month. This is quite achievable for a person who knows something about marketing. And that’s where Flow can come into play.
The smaller the steps, the better. That’s because every step builds upon the previous one: When the previous step was executed well, the next will also work well and easily. Those steps building upon one another provide some of the feedback a person needs for flow.
Another feedback provider is the long-term goal itself. By going back to previous example, the person who chose the marketing channels will know if they’re a good fit for the long-term goal when she compares the budget that needs to be invested to the budget that is available. Again, this needs detailed planning.
The last obvious thing to make sure is: keep the workplace distraction-free. Any phone calls, e-mails or other notifications are Flow- and therefore productivity-killers. After setting up all goals, plans and step-by-step processes, all the upcoming and distracting things must be minimized. If all that is the case, the work will be insanely more productive, fast and satisfying.
About the Author
Maurice Leibinn is the creator of Productive Energy Management – a method that helps people get a maximum amount of results in a minimum of time while sustaining their energy and avoiding any kind of overwhelm.
He is a productivity Coach serving serving overworked entrepreneurs and professionals. Read more...
Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row. ISBN