Lately, there’s been much ado about pandemic-induced productivity. Companies are hopping on the work-from-home bandwagon, delighted to discover that overlording isn’t necessary to get results.
In an internal survey by online learning company Chegg, for example, 86% of employees said their productivity was on par with or better than before. That’s thanks to not having commutes or workday boundaries (shocking).
That insight, along with the spike in immersive activities like bread baking, gardening, and bike riding reveals a silver lining to the pandemic. The disruption has created a perfect storm of precariousness, hardship, and risk.
And the resulting runoff can be channeled into a productive state of flow.
Diving into flow
Being in flow as defined by pioneering positivity psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is the ultimate mind-eraser:
“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
In his influential TED talk, Csíkszentmihályi also describes flow as an “ecstatic state,” which references the ancient Greek definition of “ecstasy”: to stand to the side of something. In other words, it’s a mental state where you transcend routines. Csíkszentmihályi says it’s like stepping into an alternative reality.
Additionally, author Stephen Kotler, who wrote about how extreme athletes get into the zone in The Rise of Superman, found that the best performances tend to happen when there’s a combo platter of complicated challenges and threats.
Alternative reality, check. VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), check. So how can you leverage these triggers to unlock the flow show?
It begins with having a well-defined goal that challenges your skills, yet is ultimately within reach. For example, I’m currently learning a five-minute Sanskrit chant as part of meditation teacher training. Each morning, I work on two lines (about ten words) at a time.
In the process, I lose track of time and any urges for breakfast. This is what getting into the zone is all about.
Conscious thoughts are reduced. This is referred to as “efficiency exchange.” We’re literally exchanging the energy we typically spend on conscious thought (or even self-conscious thought) for attention to a goal.
Flow continues when I check my pronunciation against my teacher’s recording, and later, by teaming up with classmates to practice. Those are also hallmarks of flow; constructive collaboration helps deepen the experience.
Would I be making as much rapid progress if the COVID crisis hadn’t upended my routine? Hard to say, but it’s certainly shifted my priorities. And that seems to be true for others, as finding bliss in productive distraction is a thing.
Might as well go with the flow.