The Freelancers Guide to Getting Into Flow
By Leo Babauta
With the rush of daily tasks thrown at us, freelancers have a hard time focusing on any one task.
And yet, focusing fully on a task, and getting immersed into it, is the key to really being productive and doing the task exceedingly well. This is known in many circles as the state of Flow, where you are lost in a task, and aren’t aware of anything else.
But while Flow is seen as a highly desirable state, in the business world as well as sports, art, martial arts and more, what’s less easy is describing how to get into that state.
It’s not that difficult, but it requires six specific things. Here, then, is a guide to getting into flow, for freelancers.
1. Clearly Defined Outcome. If you don’t really know what you’re shooting for, you won’t be able to achieve Flow. You should have a clearly visualized outcome, a target you are shooting for. This will keep you focused in one direction, and striving to get there. In trying to achieve Flow, start with this point. If you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, take a couple of minutes to visualize your outcome, clarify it, define it exactly.
2. Intrinsically Rewarding Task. If you hate a task, you will have a hard time achieving Flow, because your mind will try to think about things that are more pleasant. So it helps to start with something you love doing. But even if you don’t, try to find something rewarding about the task. Try to see something enjoyable about it. You can find that in almost any task (except the extremely painful ones). If you can focus on the enjoyable aspects of a task, your mind is more likely to want to remain on the task.
3. Sufficient Challenge. If a task is too easy, you will become bored. If it’s too difficult, you will seek easier things to think about. So you need to find that balance. There isn’t a perfect way to show you how to do this, except to think about the level of challenge each task represents. If it’s too easy, find a way to make it more of a challenge. For example, if you have to write something that you could write in your sleep, try doing it in a new and interesting way. Try to find creative ways to do things, to give yourself a challenge. If a task is too difficult, or your skill level isn’t up to it, you’ll need to break it down into easier (but still challenging) tasks, or work on your skill level (this, of course, will take more time).
4. Clear Away Distractions. If you’ve got email notifications, a ringing cell phone, and your IM client making noises, you will be pulled out of Flow. Instead, try to create a distraction-free environment. That means clearing your desk, clearing your computer of anything not essential, and telling others that you are not to be disturbed. Turn off your phones and anything that might try to interrupt you. Once you’ve got that Flow-inducing environment, you’re ready to start.
5. Relaxed and Alert. Think of yourself as an athlete: you can’t go into your sports event too tense, or bored to tears. You have to psych yourself up (music can help), walk around a bit to get your blood flowing, and take some deep breaths to relax yourself. At first, this will feel forced, and that actually doesn’t help you get to Flow. You can’t force it. But you will get better with practice, just as a pro athlete gets better at prepping for a game.
6. Full Focus on Task. Once you’ve defined your outcome, focused on the rewarding aspects of a task, ensured that it gives you sufficient challenge, cleared all distractions, and made yourself relaxed and alert, you’re ready to take on the task. This is the part that takes the most practice. You won’t be good at it at first, but every time you feel yourself being pulled away from the task, stop, and return to the task. Keep at it, and you’ll get good at it. Music helps me, but it might be distracting to you. You need to find music that keeps you flowing, without being too much noise. Just keep your focus on the task, and forget about everything else. Don’t think about what else you have to do, or the tools, or your upcoming meeting. Just return to your task, and really have fun with it.
Soon, you’ll be so into it, it’ll be hard to stop!