How to Actually Get Stuff Done When You're Unmotivated: The Power of "Flow"
I frequently get in a funk—I call it the lazy man funk. This particular funks occurs after a certain period of being unproductive and apathetic towards accomplishing my goals. Sometimes I will go weeks, (months even) without going into this funk as I smoothly glide through my hectic schedule and check my to-do lists with growing momentum. Other times I rock by and forth between lacking monetary motivation and lazar mental discipline.
And then there is a time where I am engrossed in unequivocal lazy man funk. During this period, my indifference towards accomplishing my goals sky-rockets as I altogether question my mental ability to diligently focus or complete my tasks. My mind wanders, and suddenly I watch hours and days that could have easily been filled with meaningful work fly by.
And guess what? I am in one of those funks right this very second. As I type this blog post I have a timer on my next tab forcing me to type one word after another. I am engaging in this odd time-management technique because somewhere in my brain I hold onto a reoccurring process—a process that I have found helps me overcome my laziness.
So how does setting a timer actually help? Well the only remedy that I have found for the current funk I am in involves either a.) a sharp deadline or b.) a state of flow. And since I am currently on Christmas break without a deadline in the world (probably to my demise mind you), I am optimistic that if I force myself to focus for a specific amount of time, I will be able to transform my current apathy into a productive/creative flow.
Everyone’s productive/creative flow looks different, but for me, flow occurs after I gain momentum and sequentially become increasingly more inspired to accomplish task after challenging task on my to-do list with mental clarity and personal fulfillment. But for as much as I love the effect of being in a productive/creative flow, I am not sure what really influences that process.
So as I go into the New Year—a year I aspire to spend far more in a state of flow, rather than an unproductive funk—I want to find out:
- Why getting in the flow increases productivity, &
- How to implement techniques that allow reach a state of flow and accomplish our tasks even in the midst of a productivity funk.
So, that is exactly what we are going to do today, are you ready?
What is flow and why does it increases productivity?
“In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”
When I read that definition, I picture myself in the state it is describing—and I recommend you do the same. Try re-reading that definition while rewinding to a time when you felt motivated and lost in your work—a time where your mind did not attend to stimulus around you, but focused solely on the task at hand.
When you think about that time, do you also think about being productive? And do you ever wonder like I do why this is?
Psychologist and famous TED talk speaker Dr. Csikszentmihályi answers that complex, but intriguing question from his research on the state of flow. In his 2004 TED talk, Csikszentmihályi proposed that humans can only attend to a certain amount of information at a time, specifically "110 bits of information per second.” For the most part humans are able to determine what information they want to focus their attention on.
However, if a person is in a state of flow, they unconsciously lose awareness of other things, which in turns allows an individual to devote all their attention to their task at hand—this makes sense right?
Rather than devoting a small percentage of our attention to a million different things, we are able increase our productivity by directing our sole attention on information that matters. And as an added bonus, since our attention is devoted solely on one task during a state of flow, we also feel more personally fulfilled because we can more easily see the product of our hard work.
So, we have know what flow is and that it increases productivity, but can everyone reach a state of flow—and if so, how?
From my personal research there seems to be a good and bad answer to that question. The bad news is that according to research, achieving flow is personal and does rely in part on an individual's ability. The good news however is that “one’s capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals not only leads to the optimal experience, but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall.”
What does this mean? It means a variety of different things, but for the sake of our question it means that many people are capable of achieving flow, but some people are not willing to overcome the roadblocks that prevent them from reaching an “optimal experience.”
How to enter a state a flow:
1.) Find a challenge:
Attempting something more advanced than your current abilities can achieve will often propel you into a state of flow. Why? Remember how Dr. Csikszentmihályi mentioned that humans can only process 110 bits of information per second? Well because of our limited ability to process information, if we want to conquer a new challenge we must focus our attention solely on information related to the challenge at hand. And that sole focus is an easy way to propel us into a state of flow.
2.) Focus on developing skills that align with that challenge.
According to Dr. Csikszentmihályi, in order to achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. And because there is a "sweet spot" between the two, experience and expertise in an area will make it easier for a person to reach a state of flow.
3.) Set clear goals.
Chances are that the vague goal of “being more productive” may not help us when we are in a serious funk—desperately attempting to overcome serious productivity obstacles. However, research finds that if we pick specific goals to accomplish, our passion and sense of urgency will better equip us to push past various roadblocks that prevent us from reaching a state of flow.
4.) Avoid interruptions.
Although this tip is somewhat self-explanatory, multi-tasking and distractions nevertheless prevent us from entering a state of flow by dividing our attention and ability to process information. Here are three practical ways to avoid interruptions this New Year: 1.) find a quiet study spot free of distractions 2.) utilize new time management techniques such as the pomodoro technique, and 3.) batch like tasks together.
5.) Learn to enjoy the process of achieving flow.
Reaching our goals is great, but the process involved in achieving flow may be equally as fulfilling as the end result. Psychologists have determined that our ability to navigate through mental roadblocks in order to reach flow actually increases our sense of self-efficacy and personal satisfaction.
Okay, dear squad, that is it for me. Peace, love and Stanley out.