The Pursuit of ‘Flow’ Is Overrated
That magical zone is great when you can find it. But what happens when you can’t?
The idea of flow is considered by many to be the epitome of productivity. Also known as “being in the zone” or “hitting your stride,” flow captivates us with its promise of becoming so absorbed in what we’re doing that we tackle tasks effortlessly.
It’s a kind of productivity nirvana — an enlightened state of mind where we feel unstoppable, focused, and highly effective.
But the reality is flow is elusive: It’s nice if you can get it, but what if you can’t?
Sure, we can find flow without much effort when engaged in fun activities like playing sports and games. But when we have to do something we don’t want to do, like responding to never-ending emails or completing our taxes, finding flow can be impossible. For busy professionals, that’s a big problem.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing my two best-selling books, Hooked and Indistractable, it’s that writing isn’t always fun. It’s hard work full of boredom, self-loathing, and self-doubt — pretty much the opposite of flow.
Still, I wanted to write my books and waiting to conjure a state of flow often meant I was more susceptible to distraction.
The good news is, we don’t need to wait for flow to accomplish what we need to. In fact, most people can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Rather than depending on flow, we can learn other methods to do what needs to get done, no matter what.
What is “flow” and why is it so hard to find?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term flow in the 1970s. He defines it as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
Csikszentmihalyi wrote that during flow, “concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.”