Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
Have your ever lost yourself in your work, so much so that you lost track of time? Being consumed by a task like that, while it can be rare for most people, is a state of being called Flow.
In my experience, it’s one of the keys to happiness at work, and a nice side benefit is that it not only reduces stress but increases your productivity. Not bad, huh?
When I wrote about the Magical Power of Focus, I promised to write more about how to achieve Flow, a concept that is very much in vogue right now and something most of us have experienced at one time or another.
Today we’ll take a look at what Flow is, why it’s important, and how to achieve it on a regular basis for increased productivity and happiness at work.
What is Flow?
Put simply, it’s a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully immersed in a task, forgetting about the outside world. It’s a concept proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and these days you’re likely to read about it on blogs and in all kinds of magazines.
When you’re in the state of Flow, you:
- are completely focused on the task at hand;
- forget about yourself, about others, about the world around you;
- lose track of time;
- feel happy and in control; and
become creative and productive.
One thing I love about Flow is that it takes the very Zen concept of being completely in the moment, and applies it to work tasks. It’s a concept I’ve talked a lot about here on Zen Habits — being in the moment, focusing completely on a single task, and finding a sense of calm and happiness in your work. Flow is exactly that.
Why is Flow Important?
I believe the ability to single-task (as opposed to multi-task) is one of the keys to true productivity. Not the kind of productivity where you knock off 20 items from your to-do list (although that can be satisfying), where you’re switching between tasks all day long and keep busy all the time.
The true productivity I mean is the kind where you actually achieve your goals, where you accomplish important and long-lasting things. As a writer, that might mean writing one or two important and memorable articles rather than 20 or 50 unimportant ones that people will forget 5 minutes after reading them. It means getting key projects done rather than answering a bunch of emails, making a lot of phone calls, attending a bunch of meetings, and shuffling paperwork all day long. It means closing key deals. It means quality instead of quantity.
And once you’ve learned to focus on those kinds of important projects and tasks, Flow is how you get them done. You lose yourself in those important and challenging tasks, and instead of being constantly interrupted by minor things (calls, emails, IMs, coworkers, etc.), you are able to focus on the tasks long enough to actually complete them.
And by losing yourself in them, you enjoy yourself more. You reduce stress while increasing quality output. You get important stuff done instead of just getting things done. You achieve things rather than just keeping busy.
Flow is one of the keys to all of that.
To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.
– Bertrand Russell
By Leo Babauta