As we return to “normal life,” it’s time to think about habits we’ll shed and those we’ll keep.
One page to preserve from the silver linings pandemic playbook is engaging in immersive activities. From baking to gardening, playing music, and crafting, we got lost in creative challenges — melting away time, worries, and distractions in the process.
Similarly, without things like commutes and workday boundaries, business productivity soared. Why are we going back to the office again?
Anyway, with more time and space to play with, many of us experienced the bliss of flow. Don’t turn the spigot off now — just a couple of hours “in the zone” daily, and you can optimize your mental performance and boost productivity by a reported 500%.
A Primer on Peak Performance
Positivity psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi pioneered the term “flow” in his 2008 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. It’s all about feeling and performing your best in an effortless, hyper-focused way.
The reasons why flow feels so pleasant and productive have to do with neuroscience. When you’re “in the zone,” your body releases bliss chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, and anandamide. Also, your brain waves shift from beta activity (normally stress-related) to alpha/theta activity — simultaneously alert, aware, and calm.
In other words, you’re in an “eyes-open” meditative state.
While we’ve all experienced flow at some point, Csíkszentmihályi argues you can control getting into the zone by consciously accessing information — not leaving it to chance.
The “3C Method”
To “hack” the flow state, productivity expert Jari Roomer created the “3C Method”:
- Create a Distraction-Free Environment: Turn off your phone, mute notifications, close tabs (especially email and social media), and tell your family not to disturb you (unless there’s an emergency).
- Control The “Monkey” Mind: Once you’ve managed external interruptions, work on internal distractions. To calm racing thoughts, adopt a regular meditation practice, limit caffeine and sugar intake, de-stress by journaling, and take breaks. Also, when you’re in flow, have a pad of paper handy to jot down random thoughts to address later.
- Cognitive Optimization: This is all about maximizing your brainpower, starting with capitalizing on your peak energy time. Technologist Paul Graham wrote about maker vs. manager schedules, promoting the idea of making things when you’re freshest, sharpest, and clearest (mornings for most) and managing things when you don’t need much focus. Also, remember to hydrate, use music strategically, and optimize your cognitive load with tasks that are challenging but not overwhelming and frustrating.
Roomer says if you spend just two hours daily “in the zone,” you’ll be as productive as most people are in a 40-hour workweek. It’s not about kicking back to go with the flow — it’s all about using flow to grow.