Once you understand these principles, there are a range of tactics that I have found can help to tip me in:
- Find the right environment. Figure out which types of environments are most conducive to finding your flow, and work them in whenever possible. I know, for example, that a coffee shop will help me start writing much more easily than sitting in an office. A good friend absolutely swears by airplanes. The notion of the environment being important applies equally in athletic endeavours: the home field advantage is well-known, but I’ve spoken to athletes who find that playing in away settings delivers them a huge mental advantage — they lose themselves in a feeling of “them against the entire stadium.” Different people need different things. Learn what they are for you.
- Music seems to help immensely, particularly in the context of activating those emotions. It is not at all uncommon to see athletes listening to music during training or right before a big event. Winter Olympians have iPods built into their ski jackets. That’s no accident — the impact of music on athletic performance has been well researched. I’ve found the same effect while work — I spend a lot of time writing with headphones in, and getting the music right always seems to be a pretty important step to getting the words right. An added advantage: it blocks out distractions. Know what you need to feel to find flow, and then get your music to help.
- Caffeine. It won’t guarantee a state of flow — particularly if you’re using it as a crutch — but at least in my experience at work, it sure increases the odds.
- Exercising both your body and your mind. If you want to find flow in athletic endeavours, then don’t fail to exercise your mind; similarly, if you want to drop into the zone at work, then exercise your body. I had to stop exercising after a minor surgery — and my ability to get in the zone at work dropped substantially. I just couldn’t do it. The nature of the zone is that it is neither purely physical, nor purely mental. Having both parts of your body functioning well helps you get there.
- Find your best time of day. Understanding your circadian rhythms are critical. By going back and checking the timestamps on my best work, 3pm and 10pm seem to be peak periods for me. Similarly, I just know by experience that anything before 10am in the morning is simply a lost cause; yes, I can be productive, but there’s no way I’m getting in the zone.