Being in the flow

This happened in 2008 – I was a few meters away from the shore of my resort in Maldives, floating in a canoe. I had just paddled my way to the spot. It was a beautiful moment. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, it was just the canoe and me. It was one of those times when I was completely in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about anything from work or life in general. I was just there. I was experiencing a flow.

I have experienced being in a flow many times since, most recent being a few weeks back when I was working on an important report. I shut myself in a meeting room and immersed myself in the report, hardly realizing 2 hours had passed.

A flow is defined as a mental state of being completely immersed & focused on an activity. It’s the zone that we would all love to operate in, but seldom do. Our mind, which can think up as many as 50,000 thoughts per day is vulnerable to distractions. It is very common for us to think of other to do’s, check our WhatsApp messages, or e-mails even as we are in the midst of a task. And that task might be a presentation you are creating or a family dinner that you are attending.

It is imperative that we get into the flow as often as we can, be it at work, or in our personal lives. I am sharing here a few tips on how we can achieve the flow state, tips that have worked for me.

Identify your best hours: John Medina in his book ‘Brain rules’ talks about how each person’s brain tends to operate best during specific hours. There are the Larks, people who prefer to start their day early, who are most alert around noon and feel most productive at work a few hours before they eat lunch. And then there are the Owls, who report being most alert & productive in the evening.  The rest of us are all hummingbirds, some of who are more owlish, some larkish and some in between. Once you identify your type, you can block time during your most productive hours for the most important tasks, tasks that really need you to focus.

Focus on the right tasks: Work on tasks that you are passionate about. Losing yourself in tasks that don’t excite you is very difficult. You may also want to ensure that the task is important and challenging enough to engage you.

Remove distractions:  Block your calendar for the time slot, turn off your e-mail notifications & instant messenger, put your mobile on silent, get into a meeting/conference room where your colleagues can’t find you, & put on your headphones and play some music (if it helps). Also make sure you have all the information you need to get the task done, so you don’t have to reach out to anyone or look for any files after you have started working on the task.

While the above points seem more applicable to our professional lives, I do believe they can be applied to our personal lives as well. In fact I strongly recommend we apply these more to our personal lives. All too often we are sincere, hard working professionals, but when it is time to unplug, to take some time off work, we are still thinking about work, still checking our e-mails, still taking some of those calls. No wonder ‘gadget-free holidays’ are becoming increasing popular.

Thinking back of that moment in Maldives, there is no way I could have experienced a flow if I had my phone along that afternoon.

PS: If you are someone who is not sure you have experienced a flow yet, think of the last time you played a sport (even if it was way back during your school days). It is relatively easy for us to experience a flow when we are playing a sport we enjoy.

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