Do you remember those elusive but awesome stretches, where it felt like the world was conspiring to help you get things done? You were focused, productive, creative…in the zone. That’s what psychologists call “Flow State”: a point in time where we’re completely absorbed in challenging-but-manageable work, and we’re getting stuff DONE. We engage our whole mind and become more creative as a result.
Getting Flow work done when you’re WFH w/ kids is especially tough. By day it’s hard to get uninterrupted blocks of time and in the evening you may be too zonked to inspire your mind to go ‘there.’ It’s easier to check off the simple tasks and feel good, especially when you’re time crunched, but it’s the big brainy work that’s career building.
Psychologists have cracked helpful ways to get into this state – where work stops feeling like work:
What To Do (Bites)
How to Flow: 3 Parts
i) Take a Break: Yes, the first step is to take a break, but importantly a clean break from what you were working on. A deliberate break will help clear any attention residue lingering from a previous task. So get up, walk away, change up your scenery and return.
ii) Silence the External: This is where you have to get really strict about interruptions. You have probably figured out when is the best stretch where you are undisturbed by others. Dedicate that time to Flow. It also means block out any potential distractions that tempt you and/or buzz/ding/play your favorite songs, including your phone, screens, etc. Seriously. No cheating.
iii) Add a Sensory Component – The right sounds and scents, for example, are found to help us relax and focus. Feed your senses without overwhelming them: some mellow background music, a scented candle, a cup of tea. You want to focus your attention, shift the mood, and quiet potential distractions.
Match talent to task
Flow is not advisable for stretch tasks, where the task requires a flexing of new skills and talents. Flow State is also tough to achieve when the task is so easy you could literally do it in your sleep. Find that balance of “I still have to think about it, but it’s not going to require a new certification or a month’s worth of reading.”
Loosen up on highly explicit goals
All that SMART (you know, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal stuff can be helpful for project or performance management, but it’s counterproductive when it comes to achieving Flow State. Set a goal for the task, but make it flexible and open. Think: “let’s see how much of this I can get done in the next 60 minutes” not “I have to finish half in the next 60 minutes.” Getting specific and granular stifles a mind state that unlocks big thoughts, ideas, creativity in general.
Flow State is great for when you’re staring down a single, familiar task that would benefit from some creative thinking. Flow States are NOT good for time-crunched tasks: that’s when you want to aim for Clutch State.
To bring on Flow State, you want to be open to shifting goals as the task unfolds. Keep an “ideas journal” close to capture off-task thoughts. Flow theory teaches us that sometimes the right goals are the ones we uncover through the act of working on something. Go with it! See where shifts take you; it could be somewhere valuable and awesome (or somewhere weird…which also could be valuable and awesome).
Flow State is also helpful when you’re trying to slow other people’s minds. At bedtime, when you’re trying to power down the littles, try the tips above to set the stage for a story or for bath time. You can use lighting, music, change of scenery…whatever works to trigger a transition mindset.