F is for Flow

Flow graphicIn my latest email newsletter, I talk about finding your way into ”the zone,” where creating content for your web presence is effortless and enjoyable. Being in the zone is also called “flow,” and the feeling is unmistakable: deep concentration, coming up with just the right words and concepts when you need them, being so engrossed in your task that you don’t notice time passing.

Flow is an optimal state where focused work becomes deeply satisfying, but flow also requires that certain conditions be met. According to author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these include having clear goals, a lack of distractions, and a task that is challenging but not too difficult. Under these conditions, people are able to do some of their best, most innovative work.

Everyone understands the importance of reducing distractions and having clear goals. What is less well understood is how important it is to know your unique work rhythms. To really benefit from flow, you may need a whole new way of thinking about how you manage your tasks, as well as your time.

Let’s say one of your goals is to tweet at least three times a week, once with a personal or business update and twice with links to useful content. Even for a busy entrepreneur, this is a completely manageable goal. The question is how to fit it effortlessly into your work flow, and the answer may be as simple as noticing when you transition from one task to the next during the day. Those transition periods are the perfect time to tweet about what you have just finished working on, tell people what you’re up to next, or link to a useful article you found earlier.

Other tasks require more concentrated time, for instance writing blog posts like this one. People sometimes mistakenly feel that blog posts need to be long and detailed, when actually the opposite is true. For most blogs, 200-300 words per post is plenty (this one is just under 450 words). Think of blogging as a two-step process: generating ideas and writing content. Coming up with ideas is a good task for late afternoon as the workday is winding down, while writing may flow more easily in the midmorning.

Flow is the result of several complex processes meshing throughout the day so you can enjoy being engrossed in your work for sustained periods of time. This gets easier the more you know your natural work rhythms and learn to move with them rather than against them. As you tune into how you work best, not only will you experience flow more often, you will be far more likely to meet your goals for content creation and everything else.

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