I've done my share of extreme activities and sports: hiking Kilimanjaro, diving the Coral Sea off Australia, skiing a 55 km ski marathon in Wisconsin, running several marathons, and an Ironman triathlon are all on my resume. Each of these experiences taught me different lessons in life--how to plan, how to train, how to recover, how to overcome challenges, how to stay present, and how to push through--which have served me well.
However, one lesson has given me great advantages throughout my business career as an entrepreneur, CEO, and leadership coach. It has allowed me to tap into my best talents and capabilities and create value and progress with ease and comfort. The lesson I learned is the power of finding and staying in my flow state.
Your flow state--or as some call it, the zone in sports--allows you to push past physical and mental boundaries that would otherwise be impossible to cross in a normal state of mind.
When running the last five miles of an ironman while your legs are cramping so badly that you can see the muscles knotting in your legs between each step, or diving a 3,000-foot shelf, at night and in the dark, while someone accidentally kicks off your mask leaving you temporarily blind, getting into and staying in your flow state is not just helpful, it can be lifesaving.
But finding your flow state doesn't need to be death-defying. You can find this same flow state at work. When you do, it allows you to hyper focus on the tasks at hand and bring to bear all of your talents and skills to do amazing work.
Everyone has a different flow state. Getting into yours might take a little experimentation, so here are some variables you can play with to discover how you can find, and stay in, your zone.
1. Create a conducive environment.
Your surroundings will have a large impact on your ability to get into and stay in your flow. This doesn't mean a sensory deprivation tank. One of my best flow environments is a busy coffee shop. And I know executives who love long-haul flights for finding their zone. It just needs to be a place where you're not interrupted or distracted. Experiment with background noise/music, temperature, lighting, seating, work surface, etc.
2. Choose the right time.
Everyone has a natural energy cycle during the day that effects focus. I'm a morning person, but other people I know are night owls. Some people have weekly cycles as well. Mondays are bad for me while other people loathe Friday afternoons. Track your energy level over the day for a week and see when you're most dialed in.
3. Establish a pre-routine
Getting into your flow is a process and the right pre-routine can set you up for success. Working out and eating a light and healthy meal is key for me. For others, it might be meditation or journaling. Think about what gets you ready to focus and create a ritual that clues your mind into preparing to focus.
4. De-clutter your mind.
Clearing the thoughts bouncing around in your head is key. Take a minute and right down all of the things in your head: ideas, tasks, reminders, etc. Put them on a list and promise yourself you'll get back to them after you finish your work at hand.
5. Set a time box.
It's good to create a little positive time pressure. Knowing you have a limited amount of time will not only create some urgency, but also let your mind know when you'll get back to other tasks. Generally, I try to do 90-180 minutes. It can also be helpful to work in time chunks such as pomodoros--25 minutes on, 5 minutes off--to create a rhythm.
6. Don't wait, just start.
Getting into a flow isn't like falling asleep; you don't wait for it to happen. You need to push start it to create the momentum. For tasks like writing, pushing through the first paragraph gets me going, then I'm in the zone and the momentum carries me forward. Don't just sit there. Start doing it and flow will come.
Finding your flow in your day-to-day work isn't like the adrenaline rush of dropping into a chute on a double diamond. However, done well and with careful intention your zone can be used to consistently create great periods of extremely high productivity to help you go farther, faster.