Have you ever found yourself so immersed in a project that you lost track of time? And when you finished, you felt energized and fully satisfied? When this occurs, you are in one of the most productive mindsets you can find yourself in. It’s often referred to as being in the zone or in a state of flow, a term, and concept proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the University of Chicago.
What does it take to attain a productive mindset and reach a state of flow? First, simply stated, a productive mindset makes the best of your time, energy and efforts. Now, let’s look at flow. There are specific characteristics associated with being in a state of flow that Csikszentmihalyi defines in this book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:
1. You’re completely concentrating on the task – no distractions.
2. You’re clear on what the goals of the task are and what the reward will be when completed.
3. The task is a transformation of time.
4. The task is a core rewarding experience in and of itself.
5. The task is effortless and easy; it flows.
6. The task also challenges your skill set.
7. You are so focused on the task that self-conscious mind chatter or rumination is gone.
8. You feel in control while working on the task.
Knowing these characteristics is not enough. Disciplining the mind to implement them is the challenge. A flow state is a skill that can be cultivated. When you achieve this state, you increase productivity because you are making the best of your time, energy and efforts. What prevents you from a productive mindset and cultivating this skill? You. You are the one who gets in your own way of achieving a state of flow and attaining a productive mindset. Here are some questions to answer as a way to know and understand yourself better.
1. Are you able to completely focus on the task at hand, or do you periodically check texts and emails or self-critique your work?
2. Are you able to stop thinking about yourself, others and what is going on around you?
3. Are you able to be in the moment, present with the task?
4. Do you enjoy taking on challenging tasks that aren’t too hard for your skill set yet will grow your abilities? Or do you prefer work that is easy and doesn’t demand too much of your time?
A healthy self-concept is knowing yourself combined with being true to yourself. Answering these questions honestly gives you greater self-awareness of what might be preventing you from being as productive as you want to be. What are the elements of a productive mindset?
A person with a productive mindset is curious and motivated, has a vision, uses critical thinking, maintains a positive attitude, never gives up and is self-confident, persistent and open-minded.
When you’re open-minded, you are more accepting of others, more optimistic, open to change and flexible. Therefore, you’re less stressed and open to self-actualization. Marrying this mindset with the eight characteristics of being in the state of flow, you will be able to be more productive in your work and feel greater contentment in your life overall.
Csikszentmihalyi stated that “the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times … The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi’s premise is that being productive in a state of flow is a contributing factor to genuine happiness and increased creativity. The bottom line his research led him to: a productive and happy employee is one who can work in a state of flow.
If that’s so, what’s getting in the way of a content, productive employee?
When we consider the plethora of distractions from a bombardment of emails, text and social media posts, it’s no wonder that fully focusing on a task can seem daunting. With your watch pinging you every time a text or email comes through, it’s understandable that you would be driven to distraction. If you are in a state of flow and your watch pings you, it will disrupt the experience.
My advice to my clients: Put the phone on airplane mode, and try to focus for as long as you can on a challenging task. Practicing being completely absorbed is the way to move into a flow state.
I also recommend adopting a mindfulness practice to quiet the mind so that you can start living a life more consciously and deliberately, taking back control of where and what you want to focus on. A daily mindfulness practice will help you attain and maintain a flow state. Ten minutes a day is all you need.
Earlier, I mentioned that it’s you who is getting in the way of being more productive. Now we can add that it’s you who gets in the way of feeling content. Are you ready to tap into your flow state to be more productive and content? There is no time like today to learn this skill set. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So … get on your way!”
Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author permission.