Achieve Flow State

How Creatives Can Achieve Flow State

We have covered the importance of flow and creativity. How do you achieve flow state? As creatives, we know what types of environments and situations that are not conducive for our work. However, it is not always clear as to what we need. Below are ways we can get into flow.

Going with the flow

You could be working on an illustration, making a favorite recipe, or even cleaning the house. Look up and hours have passed. Your focus on a task was so intense that it blocked out outside distractions.

Flow are moments where we are actively engaging and stretching our creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in his book, “Flow,” that we find satisfaction in flow state. We feel strong, alert, in control, and at the peak of our abilities.

Flow checklist to achieve flow state

Owen Schaffer, a researcher at DePaul University, cites seven conditions required for achieving flow state.

  • Know what to do
  • Know how to do it
  • Know how well you are doing
  • Know where to go (if you need to navigate)
  • Aware of possible challenges
  • Aware of skills and resources available
  • Free from distractions

The last requirement is challenging when you consider the realities of daily work lives. Read more about the open office spaces and the history of the cubicle.

Skills, tasks, and goals

One of the keys of flow state is to feel that we are pushing our abilities and exercising creativity. The trick is to find something that will challenge us enough to feel the effort is rewarding. Avoid taking on tasks that push us too far and cause us stress.

Achieve flow state

Find something that will stretch but not overwhelm your skills to achieve flow state.

With work on our own creative endeavors, we can get lost in the details and miss the big vision or goal. Ravi Shankar Rajan, writes in his post on Medium, that it is important to think about the end first. What do you hope to achieve? What will that look like to you?

Environment

Where you do your work greatly affects your output. The challenge for us to find places to focus and free from distractions. Our current reliance on the open office has made spaces for quiet concentration scarce.

Sometimes we need to just leave the office. At my job, we book rooms at co-working spaces to get the team out of their day-to-day norms. Even with email and Slack, people are encouraged to check them less and focus on the task and the people in the room.

When working on my own, I organize escapes from the home, office, or people. There are coffee shops at non-peak hours (i.e. 7 A.M. or 6 P.M.), underutilized office space, or even a sleepy house when no one is awake. Each has the potential for achieving flow state.

And teams?

Ravi Shankar Rijan also advises us to not go into flow alone. Citing a study from St. Bonaventure University, he noted that students felt more joy from flow if they were with others.

Keith Sawyer writes in this post, “Group flow: How teams can experience ‘flow’ together,” that jazz groups, improv troops, and business professionals that experience group flow are actually the best performers.

He explains that the requirements for achieving flow as a group are similar to the ones stated above. The one exception is with control and egos. In solo states, control is necessary to help you focus and forget about the distractions around you. In a group, this is still true, but the members must be flexible to defer to the change of flow within the group.

Ideas and new ideas are results of contributing to the group. Listen to how the group responds. Build on emerging themes.

Read more about creativity here.

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Matt Eng

UX Research Team Lead at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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