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My Productivity Secret – The Joy of Flow State

What is your productivity secret? Adam “monkatwork” Kayce has tagged me for the Ultimate Guide to Productivity Group Writing Project. It’s a difficult question to answer.

On the one hand, I do get a lot done. People often say to me that they wish they could also do this or that but they don’t have time. Where do I find the time? That’s the thing, much of what people do to make them productive is subconscious.

My secret I think is “flow”.

Have you heard of that before? You almost certainly will have experienced it. It’s that mood/mode where you are in the zone, you are almost on automatic. It feels good and you do good. It’s not quite concentration, and it’s not meditation either, but you do seem to be able to ignore outside distractions. When you get into that flow “thing” creativity and productivity just pour out of you.

Getting into a flow state

I have not looked into this scientifically, it’s a state I drop into automatically when the conditions are right. Here are some tips for achieving this state.

  • Clear a space, in your schedule, in your work area and in your head
  • Know what you want to achieve and what it will be like when it is done so you know when to stop
  • Do all your preparation first – like a good chef you want all your ingredients to hand
  • Turn off the email, IM, twitter, and phone
  • Practice – this will only come when you are not finding the actual process challenging, that is do not expect flow when trying out new software or an unfamiliar task. Even then you will need to practice.
  • Don’t try to force it – when it doesn’t come there is usually a good reason

Read more about flow at Wikipedia.

Chris, you are losing it

I know some of you will be thinking this is all pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo but really it is something very normal and common. Sports people especially know what it is like, but it is difficult to describe all the same. My recommendation is to look out for it, you probably go into flow without noticing. If you get into your work and look up and wonder where the time went, you probably have just experienced it.

Who are my victims?

I am going to tag

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Comments

  1. Nice job, Chris! This is the essence of it, I think — to get your circumstances aligned (both inside of you and in your environment) to make the flow state increasingly easy to come by.

    I can’t imagine anyone dismissing that as “mumbo jumbo” — it seems just like good, honest, self-aware common sense to me.

  2. Nice job, Chris! This is the essence of it, I think — to get your circumstances aligned (both inside of you and in your environment) to make the flow state increasingly easy to come by.

    I can’t imagine anyone dismissing that as “mumbo jumbo” — it seems just like good, honest, self-aware common sense to me.

  3. Thanks Adam, it’s something I have noticed but never sat down and analysed much 🙂

  4. Thanks Adam, it’s something I have noticed but never sat down and analysed much 🙂

  5. hi chris,

    i think the part of disabling all interruptions sources is the most important of all…
    ym is killing productivity!

    can you tell us more about this tagging technique?

    thanks again,
    webee
    [is a design blog]

  6. hi chris,

    i think the part of disabling all interruptions sources is the most important of all…
    ym is killing productivity!

    can you tell us more about this tagging technique?

    thanks again,
    webee
    [is a design blog]

  7. Hmmm … perhaps I should do a post on memes/tagging?

  8. Hmmm … perhaps I should do a post on memes/tagging?

  9. Right on the button, Chris. I recently started going to the library a couple of times a week just with a notebook (and not the electronic kind…) Just sitting down for an hour or two and writing, without any outside distraction, is an excellent means of productivity.

    Although I agree that the flow cannot be forced, if you put yourself in the right environment, then more often than not you can hit the zone.

  10. Right on the button, Chris. I recently started going to the library a couple of times a week just with a notebook (and not the electronic kind…) Just sitting down for an hour or two and writing, without any outside distraction, is an excellent means of productivity.

    Although I agree that the flow cannot be forced, if you put yourself in the right environment, then more often than not you can hit the zone.

  11. Just hanging out at the library is a great idea. I really need to get out of the home office more. I’m going to start putting audio books/downloads on my ipod to walk with.

  12. Just hanging out at the library is a great idea. I really need to get out of the home office more. I’m going to start putting audio books/downloads on my ipod to walk with.

  13. I do the same thing, but I go to a Panera for a few hours. Somehow I find that being surrounded by activity, I can insulate myself and just dream, write, plan, etc.

    It’s probably like having a white noise machine… it just makes everything fade out.

    Other than that, my getaway is a 6000-acre state park just two miles from my driveway (when the weather agrees, of course). Walk, empty out, walk some more, empty out some more.

    Always helps to clear the mind.

  14. I do the same thing, but I go to a Panera for a few hours. Somehow I find that being surrounded by activity, I can insulate myself and just dream, write, plan, etc.

    It’s probably like having a white noise machine… it just makes everything fade out.

    Other than that, my getaway is a 6000-acre state park just two miles from my driveway (when the weather agrees, of course). Walk, empty out, walk some more, empty out some more.

    Always helps to clear the mind.

  15. State park so close, I bet that’s lovely. Nothing like that round here, good job I have an active imagination heh 😉

  16. State park so close, I bet that’s lovely. Nothing like that round here, good job I have an active imagination heh 😉

  17. Yes. This is about the only way I can write clearly. Coding websites, visual design, etc – that’s all rote at this point. But the only way I’m productive in more creative endeavors is to find the flow. I say find because I feel it’s always there. I just need to join it.

    Like Adam, I live about 1500 meters from the largest wilderness area in lower Michigan U.S.). I’ve got 20,000 acres of wilderness, lakes, hiking trails and quiet. It’s incredible how recharging nature is.

  18. Yes. This is about the only way I can write clearly. Coding websites, visual design, etc – that’s all rote at this point. But the only way I’m productive in more creative endeavors is to find the flow. I say find because I feel it’s always there. I just need to join it.

    Like Adam, I live about 1500 meters from the largest wilderness area in lower Michigan U.S.). I’ve got 20,000 acres of wilderness, lakes, hiking trails and quiet. It’s incredible how recharging nature is.

  19. I feel so envious of you guys right now 😉

  20. I feel so envious of you guys right now 😉

  21. “know when to stop”

    That’s the problem I have – sometimes I don’t know when to stop and I wind up with less quality plus nothing else around here gets done. Ok. I’m applying those wise words right now and I’m going to fold the laundry!

  22. “know when to stop”

    That’s the problem I have – sometimes I don’t know when to stop and I wind up with less quality plus nothing else around here gets done. Ok. I’m applying those wise words right now and I’m going to fold the laundry!

  23. Oh yeah, left alone I will endlessly tweak – I can’t leave things alone (as this thread will demonstrate, do I really *need* to answer each comment one after the other? 😉 )

  24. Oh yeah, left alone I will endlessly tweak – I can’t leave things alone (as this thread will demonstrate, do I really *need* to answer each comment one after the other? 😉 )

  25. Ann, I used to have the same problem. When I learned to stop, it really changed the relationship (and success) I had with my business.

    And Chris, no need to envy. Trust me, I’m not perfect in executing my focused approach. The times I am – I get a ton done. But I’m also human, work at home where my family can interrupt me any time, am often sleep deprived due to my 1 & 3 year-old kids, am busy enough that my own projects fall behind, and some days I just want to get out of my office – making productivity challenging.

    These things happen all the time. I’m just fortunate that I’ve found a way to get tons of work done in small blocks.

  26. Ann, I used to have the same problem. When I learned to stop, it really changed the relationship (and success) I had with my business.

    And Chris, no need to envy. Trust me, I’m not perfect in executing my focused approach. The times I am – I get a ton done. But I’m also human, work at home where my family can interrupt me any time, am often sleep deprived due to my 1 & 3 year-old kids, am busy enough that my own projects fall behind, and some days I just want to get out of my office – making productivity challenging.

    These things happen all the time. I’m just fortunate that I’ve found a way to get tons of work done in small blocks.

  27. As a newspaper editor (in a former life), I saw lots of professional reporters get stuck when it came time to write. I always reminded them that writing is a process, not an event. And the process works this way:

    1. Content: Gather your materials (your facts, your interviews, your background materials … whatever you need to execute the article).
    2. Structure: First, define exactly what you are writing about, and cut out anything that doesn’t fit. Next, look for a structure that most efficiently conveys the content into the reader’s brain: a how-to, a list, an inverted pyramid, a haiku, a detective story, whatever. Structure helps the reader absorb your content more quickly; it also help you write more quickly. It’s a win/win.
    3. Clarity: Use short words and short sentences. Focus on writing so simply, so concisely, so concretly and so clearly that your reader grasps the content on the first read. (When in doubt, study Hemingway.)
    4. Style: If you get the first three parts of the process right, style takes care of itself. You define your style by the choices you make in content, structure and clarity.

    Some listened; others preferred to bang their heads on their desks until the words flowed. As for me, I prefer process to pain.

    Final thought: Lately, I’ve found PowerPoint to be a very useful tool for organizing content and giving structure to articles. Translating content into bullet points accelerates the process. And if you group your ideas by category on PowerPoint pages, and shift the order around, it becomes much easier to identify the proper structure.

  28. As a newspaper editor (in a former life), I saw lots of professional reporters get stuck when it came time to write. I always reminded them that writing is a process, not an event. And the process works this way:

    1. Content: Gather your materials (your facts, your interviews, your background materials … whatever you need to execute the article).
    2. Structure: First, define exactly what you are writing about, and cut out anything that doesn’t fit. Next, look for a structure that most efficiently conveys the content into the reader’s brain: a how-to, a list, an inverted pyramid, a haiku, a detective story, whatever. Structure helps the reader absorb your content more quickly; it also help you write more quickly. It’s a win/win.
    3. Clarity: Use short words and short sentences. Focus on writing so simply, so concisely, so concretly and so clearly that your reader grasps the content on the first read. (When in doubt, study Hemingway.)
    4. Style: If you get the first three parts of the process right, style takes care of itself. You define your style by the choices you make in content, structure and clarity.

    Some listened; others preferred to bang their heads on their desks until the words flowed. As for me, I prefer process to pain.

    Final thought: Lately, I’ve found PowerPoint to be a very useful tool for organizing content and giving structure to articles. Translating content into bullet points accelerates the process. And if you group your ideas by category on PowerPoint pages, and shift the order around, it becomes much easier to identify the proper structure.

  29. Great stuff, yes that makes sense.

    I agree about powerpoint too. Much as people complain about powerpoint as a presentation tool, as an outliner it does really help get your thoughts in order. I tend to make notes as bullet points anyway, even on paper, so outlining is a natural way for me to write.

  30. Great stuff, yes that makes sense.

    I agree about powerpoint too. Much as people complain about powerpoint as a presentation tool, as an outliner it does really help get your thoughts in order. I tend to make notes as bullet points anyway, even on paper, so outlining is a natural way for me to write.

  31. Hey Chris… “State park so close, I bet that’s lovely. Nothing like that round here…”

    Yeah? Well, I didn’t exactly mention that it’s a 45-minute drive for me to get to that Panera…

    I traded in proximity to the conveniences of modern civilization for this closeness to nature!

  32. Hey Chris… “State park so close, I bet that’s lovely. Nothing like that round here…”

    Yeah? Well, I didn’t exactly mention that it’s a 45-minute drive for me to get to that Panera…

    I traded in proximity to the conveniences of modern civilization for this closeness to nature!

  33. This is one of the hardest things I find about working from home – focus and flow. Once I have it I’m fine, but it’s getting there.

    Your point about:

    “I’m going to start putting audio books/downloads on my ipod to walk with”

    …good idea! I decided to start cycling again, in the various woods/nature parks nearby…that way I kill two birds with one stone – ‘time’ to listen to (and take in) all the audio I download, plenty of fresh air and daylight…and keep fit at the same time 🙂

    Adele 😀

  34. This is one of the hardest things I find about working from home – focus and flow. Once I have it I’m fine, but it’s getting there.

    Your point about:

    “I’m going to start putting audio books/downloads on my ipod to walk with”

    …good idea! I decided to start cycling again, in the various woods/nature parks nearby…that way I kill two birds with one stone – ‘time’ to listen to (and take in) all the audio I download, plenty of fresh air and daylight…and keep fit at the same time 🙂

    Adele 😀

  35. Flow ain’t no mumbo-jumbo, my friend. This state of hyper-focus is well known to professionals in the field of Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder… which leads me to wonder what the incidence of Adult ADHD might be among bloggers and entrepreneurs – rather high, I’d bet!

    For me, warm bath + pencil + notebook + silence = creative flow. Paper notebook, that is, for obvious reasons.

  36. Flow ain’t no mumbo-jumbo, my friend. This state of hyper-focus is well known to professionals in the field of Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder… which leads me to wonder what the incidence of Adult ADHD might be among bloggers and entrepreneurs – rather high, I’d bet!

    For me, warm bath + pencil + notebook + silence = creative flow. Paper notebook, that is, for obvious reasons.

  37. Chris, I based my whole coaching practice on the concept of flow and how it leads to peak performance (and productivity), so I sure hope it’s not just a bunch of “pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo!”

    Flow is about getting focused, and my favorite way to get into the flow is to make whatever I’m doing into a game — just add a time limit, personal best or other performance measure. (Ever notice how focused you become in the last 15 minutes before your laptop battery runs out?)

    If you’re interested, I detailed 21 ways in my report, “Get Your Flow On!”, at my website. Would love to hear feedback from other flow fans.

  38. Chris, I based my whole coaching practice on the concept of flow and how it leads to peak performance (and productivity), so I sure hope it’s not just a bunch of “pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo!”

    Flow is about getting focused, and my favorite way to get into the flow is to make whatever I’m doing into a game — just add a time limit, personal best or other performance measure. (Ever notice how focused you become in the last 15 minutes before your laptop battery runs out?)

    If you’re interested, I detailed 21 ways in my report, “Get Your Flow On!”, at my website. Would love to hear feedback from other flow fans.