Flow describes the state in which we’re most awesome, creative, and effective. On fire. In beast mode. In the zone. Rahul Vohra describes it beautifully in pretty much every podcast interview he gives.
Little things are inhibitors of flow. They’re life’s little speed bumps, nuances meant to make us slow down and recenter. A stack of papers taking up space on the dining room table. A tangle of cords behind the desk. A dirty counter. A lagging computer. Push notifications. A rollerblade wheel that loosens too quickly.
These are tests we get to pass or fail and we mostly pass without noticing. But sometimes we start to notice—because they’re pulling us out of flow. They’re beacons of distraction, calls for help from Inefficiency and Disturbance. Robbing us of our flow.
Why is flow so important?
When used for productivity, flow allows us to build momentum and accomplish more. It’s the difference between a mind-numbing slog that utterly depletes you of your energy, and thinking “where did the time go?” as you admire your finished or in-progress masterpiece.
When used for leisure, flow allows us to escape our worldly stresses and mentally reset.
When used for both, flow is unstoppable. It’s one of the most beneficial forces we can learn to control.
How do we lose flow?
We lose flow when we:
- don’t have the mental energy required,
- don’t know exactly what we wish to do next,
- don’t have enough control over what we’re trying to do next, or
- get distracted.
How do we get it back?
Sometimes it’s easy enough: bouncing back from a short distraction; wrapping your mind around how a tool works; clearing out the clutter getting in your way; taking a 30 minute break to brew some coffee and playing some music.
But sometimes, it’s not easy. Mental energy takes a lot longer to regain. A crashed hard drive is usually impossible to fix by yourself. In these cases, our best bet for tapping back into a flow state is to recognize that the specific activity you were trying to accomplish is now no longer possible—we can accept this and move into a new activity and a new flow state, or we can fight aimlessly.
How do we stay in flow?
To stay in flow, optimize for situations in which all of these are true:
- You know what to do next, in every moment
- You know how to do it
- You’re free of distractions (turn on Do Not Disturb)
- You’re getting clear and immediate feedback from your tools/system
- You feel an enticing (but not discouraging) sense of challenge
What if we could be in flow all the time?
I envision being in a flow state from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. Slipping effortlessly from one activity to the next, not hesitating, not getting distracted, not running into [big] roadblocks.
In an existence of constant flow, we can truly accomplish anything we have the resources for.
As you find your creative flow, or your productive sales outreach flow, don’t be afraid to dive headlong into it. Plan your playlist for the amount of time you want to spend in flow. Spend as much time in flow as possible.
Last night on my ritual rollerblade ride, I took my first real spill in years.
When COVID-19 caused my local rock climbing gym to shut down and my pick-up soccer group to temporarily disband, I had to find a new source of physical activity. I broke out my dad‘s ol’ ’blades, rediscovered a childhood passion, and quickly upgraded to my own new pair. I’ve been riding almost nightly for the past three (four?) weeks now.
I’ve skated enough as a kid that I haven’t fallen once since I restarted this year! So it shook me pretty hard for a minute. But, been there, done that. I’ve taken enough spills to know that the best you can do (if you want to keep enjoying something, let alone get home) is to pick the dirt out of the wound, shake off the nerves, and “get back on the horse.”
Later, this brain-rebooting tumble knocked loose a correlation to what it’s like to run a business.
In business, you’re going to take falls and get scraped up pretty bad. Just like on rollerblades or a bike, you’re doing your best to keep your balance at all times, picking up speed along the way, navigating the twists and turns of the proverbial road of entrepreneurship.
Everyone slips. Everyone falls.
The question isn’t how often or how hard you fall, but how you get back up.
Do you get up with a renewed sense of purpose? Do you have a drive to understand your mistake and avoid doing it twice? If so, you’re likely improving along the way, getting ahead in your business and seeing the kinds of results you want.
If not, you’re likely repeating the same errors—if you’re getting back on the horse at all. And if you’re quitting after taking a tumble, my advice to you is this: if it’s something you enjoy doing, get back on right away. You may be in the middle of the dip, and it’s only by getting back up and putting up reps that you’ll get to where you want to be.
How do you get back on the horse when you fall?