I remember how I was moving to another country many years ago.
Everything was ready, I had my work permit, last day at my job was already in sight, I was getting ready to move out. I just had to get an entry visa – simple formality. Suddenly, an unexpected surprise. The embassy told me that I have to wait for one more month until my visa is issued…
Luckily, the flat lease was extended. And my old job came up with an offer – I can work for one more month if I write the research paper that my lab kept planning to produce for a while now.
I started working on the article. I was free from distractions. None of the worries of the old life were on my mind. I had my future in front of me, I was just given a small time out.
Now, writing a research article is never easy. I had written a few before then, and it was always hard. The ideas have to flow in a logical way, all the statements made must be backed up by literature references, you have to come up with the right words… In a word, not much fun all around, with occasional bumping my head against the wall when I was getting stuck.
But something was different this time.
My clear mind shifted into a higher gear. Thoughts flowed effortlessly, words came by themselves, my fingers were flying all over the keyboard. In fact, I had never enjoyed work that much at any time in my life!
Turns out what I had experienced back then is a psychological phenomenon. It’s called ‘flow’. This is a particular mental state where the work itself brings pleasure. A person working in flow forgets about time, does not feel hunger, stops hearing what goes on around. The person is fully concentrated, yet the concentration comes naturally and requires no effort. People who are capable of working in the flow are self motivated and actively seek out work, because the work itself, not its result, becomes their reward.
Turns out working in the flow is not something that’s only available to select few. True, some people seem to have the gift of turning the flow on and off, as needed. But it’s possible to consciously create the flow if you know a few simple rules.
Not every job can be done in the flow. It has to be a task that is not easy. But, at the same time, it has to be a task that you are confident you can do.
You need to be clear what you are doing, and what needs to be done at every point while working in the flow. This is best done by making all the decisions in advance.
You need to be concentrated at the start, before you fall into the flow. So try to avoid any disruptions before you start your flow attempt.
The good news is that flow is self enforcing. Like an engine that needs to be primed and then keeps going by itself. You need to make an effort to concentrate at the beginning, but once you are in the flow, your concentration and your ability to perform complex tasks will increase.
As always, a bonus – if you want to know more about flow, there’s a great book you can read!