Get sh*t done: paths to finding flow

When I was a kid, my grandparents took me to Casa Loma. It’s an historic stone mega-mansion in the middle of Toronto that’s now a public attraction. I was immediately obsessed.

Obviously I took the visitor pamphlet with the castle’s floor plan back to my grandparents’ apartment. And to my great delight, my grandfather, who was an engineer, showed me how to pull out the drafting table that he and built into his bedroom wall and use his huge sheets of graph paper and a ruler to enlarge the floor plan to scale.

Despite being under ten, for the next few hours I did this work with the intensity of a surgeon. My brain was in heaven – meditative, systematic, switched on, dialed in, with laser clarity of purpose. It’s one of the first times I can consciously remember being in a state of flow.

You may feel like you have difficulty focusing, but know this: your brain is designed to flow and it craves this state of intense focus and clarity. The more you flow, the easier it is, and the more you will experience it. Here are some tips for getting there:

Make it matter  

You probably won’t find flow washing dishes (although I’ve heard it can be pretty zen #notforme). Find a task that really matters, where you’re invested in the outcome. It should challenge you, but not to the point you’ll get frustrated and quit. This is actually a great test for any work you’re doing. If it doesn’t matter enough to inspire you into a state of flow, how much of a priority is it?

Choose work times intentionally

Do your focused, creative work when you are most naturally focused and creative. If you don’t know, you need to experiment and figure that out. For most of us, we do our best work in the early morning or in the evening. Turns out, our brain activity mirrors the activity level of the animals at the High Park zoo (go figure).

Give yourself enough time 

You also want to give yourself a window of time in which to enter the state of flow and actually get somewhere. If there was a city called “let’s honestly think we can do two hours of work in the next forty minutes,” I would be mayor of that city. I’m working on that. What I’ve learned is that it is WAY BETTER to choose just one important thing, and give yourself the forty minutes to go deep with it.

Help your brain avoid distractions

Does your brain love to be in the state of flow? Yes it does. Does it need help to overcome distractions? Absolutely. Do yourself a favour and set yourself up for success.

Clear your desk space (or wherever you’ll be working).

Have everything you might need within reach.

Remove distractions (close the fifteen other tabs, or disconnect altogether, put phone on silent or out of the way (imagine!), let your dog out).

Catch yourself

A final tip: catch yourself just as you are breaking focus and challenge yourself to prolong focus instead. While writing this, I’ve literally reached for my phone, caught myself, and returned to typing at least four times. And look, I finished!

There it is. To recap: make it matter, choose work times intentionally, give yourself enough time, help your brain avoid distractions, and catch yourself. What will you accomplish today? Here’s to you, finding flow.


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