1 Nov, 2021

Written by Sara
Finding flow (and why I don’t answer your calls)

Getting into flow is the high point of my day. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly hijacked by the reality of working in the COVID era – so here’s how I’m dealing with it.

As I try to write this, a noisy magpie is demanding attention with an incessant caw, caw, caw outside my window. It’s highly distracting. And it’s taking all my focus to get back inside my head, and recapture the writing flow I had just seconds ago.

It’s the same effect as when one of the kids suddenly needs urgent help finding something, my husband (just to my right) decides to share a “hilarious” tweet with me while my fingers are tapping at 100 miles an hour, or the phone rings. Or when I have to drag myself away from word 2,229 of a 2,500 white paper because yet another Zoom meeting is waiting for me.

Getting into a state of flow has felt almost impossible at times during COVID lockdowns. But it has never been more important.

Adam Grant’s New York Times article There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing struck a chord with me – and everyone I work with – because it named the issue we all face right now. The impossibility of staying focused and productive while dealing with a general sense of being overwhelmed.

Yet the antidote was the thing I knew I needed: flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was first to research flow, and identify its role in creativity, productivity and happiness:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe the type of writing we do. It stretches us and challenges us to find new ways to connect disparate ideas, to combine clarity with surprise. To create that elusive ‘aha!’ moment that makes people sit up and think ‘I get it now!’ or ‘I never thought of it like that before!’


Credit to sketchplanations for this awesome illustration

It takes quite a lot of thinking time to do this well. On any given writing project, about 80% of my effort (and value) is the thinking. The actual physical act of tapping at my keyboard is useless unless the right words are flowing in the right way.

That’s why flow is one of the most precious commodities for writers and other creatives or problem solvers. Flow is more than time. It’s a headspace that allows the work itself to feel effortless. It’s that feeling of being ‘in the zone’, of being so immersed that your inner self-critic is silenced. And, crucially, the satisfaction of seeing something through to completion. That endorphin rush that comes with ticking off a challenging yet doable task.
Everyone deserves to have that feeling at work – not just us writers. But right now, the need to be always on (and always on Zoom) isn’t really helping us achieve it.

So here are a few things I’m experimenting with to set some boundaries.

Turning off my phone (and social media and emails)

Sorry, much-valued clients. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m in flow, and I won’t stop to answer your call right now. I know it’s important, so send me a quick email or text and I’ll get back to you once this draft is done. (Or call Katrina! She’ll love me for writing that…)

Planning two-hour blocks of writing time

On any given day, I could be working on three or four different projects at different stages. Instead of expecting my brain to cope with switching from one subject, client or audience to another while also checking emails, I try to block writing into two-hour chunks with a single focus, and take a quick break between each. That also means I need to…

Manage Zoom expectations

Wouldn’t it be nice if Zoom defaulted to a 15-minute catch-up window instead of assuming you always need an hour? Until that happens, we all need to help each other work out what needs to be a video call, and what could be shared via email. Because as everyone knows, Zoom-fatigue is real. It’s not always the best way to get decisions made or share complex information. And it definitely interrupts flow.

I know other people make time for mindfulness – starting the day with yoga or meditation, ending it with some quiet reflection in a journal. Or they lose themselves in a game with their kids, or trying to solve a plot-twister detective novel. Whatever it takes, to regain that feeling of being in the moment, where time loses meaning. Where you feel a sense of flow.

We’re always looking for tips on how to stay in the flow. What’s worked for you over the past year or so? Send us an email and let us know.

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