March 17, 2016
For years I have been chasing my perfect formula for flow. Flow is what you get when you get in the zone and are able to produce work like never before. The theory is that if you can get into flow, you increase your productive output by 2x (or even way more). Some people like to go to a coffee shop, others like a particular setup. But for me, my flow formula is a carefully crafted set of factors. This list is completely personalized, so use at your own interest.
Since you probably can’t get away with having absolutely no meetings or distractions, it’s best to consolidated them as much as possible. I used to evenly spread meetings through my day so I would have breaks between to work on stuff. The only problem was meetings would run long and my productive time was eaten alive. Its also very hard to start/stop something on which you are working. I try to move all my meetings and planned interruptions either to a particular day of the week or at the very least, a certain half of the day (either am or pm).
I have found that my productivity takes on different moods. Sometimes I am really in the mood to work on something graphical, while other times, I want to write something meaningful. Other times, I want to clear out my Asana task list. It just depends. But I have learned that I most easily reach flow when I work on what I am most interested to work on that day. Out of all the work you can work on for the week, choose what you are most interested in at the moment.
What’s your optimal set up when you work? For me, I have three monitors that I use as my primary workstation. Yes, 3 … and it’s glorious. I usually put my notes on one screen, my music on another and my central work canvas on the other. I also turn off outlook, turn off slack, and put my phone out of sight as well.
For some people, their optimal set up is a coffee shop, a latte and some headphones. Check out Coffitivity — a tab you can open that will give you ambient sounds of a coffee shop. Configure your setup to be a carefully crafted arrangement meant for maximum efficiency and productivity.
Flow is about significant stretches of time without interruption. Get your cup of coffee (or three) brewed, grab a few snacks and take your bathroom break. Each seemingly insignificant interruption can break your creative flow. So prepare ahead of time for whatever you might need or crave within a span of a couple hours.
It took me a while, but I have slowly acquired a variety of playlists for my work. Music has become a integral part of my work flow. Perhaps music helps eliminate distracting thoughts that come with silence, but whatever it does, for me it works. I have different playlists according to what I am working on.
If I need to write something, I need instrumental only. It’s almost always an uptempo instrumental mix. For creative design work including anything I do with creating things (Photoshop, Illustrator, Invision, Balasmiq, etc), I somehow have gravitated to a harder rock. The fast tempo and aggressive edge to the sounds get me super pumped on whatever I am doing. Sevendust (I know, I know), has the right blend of tempo, edge, and melody.
For work that doesn’t require me to be precise with words, I will choose a podcast or some of my favorites songs over the years. I am known to bust out some 80’s ballads occasionally.
When you are working on something important, use the carrot or stick approach to motivating yourself. Set up an incentive or reward that you will give yourself when you finish the task. For me, its some sirracha bacon or an episode of The Office with our team. On the flip side, sometimes I will work on something and not permit myself to eat lunch until that goal is accomplished.
As soon as I have all my ducks in a row, I start work and I try and to go as fast as I can. The aim is to build my momentum. Think of a long distance runner who jumps out of the blocks and tries to get up to speed. I focus on my first 10 minutes to get up to my max speed. From there, I can usually keep that pace for a couple hours.
Within 25 minutes, I usually become an unstoppable force of productivity. I am continually trying new things to get flow and love hearing other people’s tips and tricks. What works for you? Let us know in the comments.