Find Your Flow in a Quarantine

I’ve been grumpy and unproductive. I find myself looking back at my long work days and wondering what I accomplished except for sitting in front of my computer on video calls all day – and responding to emails. I haven’t had an ounce of creativity. I’ve been longing for the days where I could get into “the zone” and hammer out pages of content, blogs, course work like I used to – before the quarantine. I dream about the times where everything in the world around me would just melt away and my creative juices would flow.

Then, I started seeing a bunch or articles about “finding your flow in quarantine”. I payed little attention to them until my Wellness Wednesday interview with Yoga Therapist, Leanne Matullo. During the interview, she talked about using the early morning time to care for her Energy Kosha (check out the interview its awesome). I thought to myself, “I love the early morning too. I’m so productive.” Then it clicked. I’ve been sleeping in – and I’m constantly distracted and interrupted all day long. No wonder I not getting anything creative achieved!

When I came to this realization, I decided to track how many times I was interrupted throughout the day – and what the interruption was for. I stopped tracking after an hour, because in a hour’s time, I was interrupted 11 times. For a little levity, here they are:

  • “Mommy can I watch Pocahontas again?”
  • “Mommy I’m still hungry (while her breakfast sits uneaten at the kitchen counter).”
  • The dogs wanted to go outside.
  • “Mommy, can we invite the dogs to my birthday party?”
  • My husband coming to the main floor to make a snack and as a result felt the need to discuss the news.
  • “Look at my feet Mommy!”
  • “Uhhh mommy…there’s something weird in the toilet.” Which required me to get up and go look, then spend time explaining what’s in poop.
  • A lengthy discussion where my daughter asked me if she could wear the summer dress she asked to wear earlier this morning and I already told her she couldn’t because it was too cold, but she wanted to ask for a 4th time in case I changed my mind.
  • “Mommy are there going to be lots of people at my birthday party?”
  • Interruption on a video call by my daughter to show me and everyone else the cool car she was playing with.
  • The dogs need to go outside…again.

Between the dogs, my daughter, my husband, and the constant housework that stares at me all day, I haven’t been able to find an uninterrupted hour in the last two months – much less a large chunk of time that would allow me to get into my flow and actually create something. That’s why I was cranky. That’s why I constantly feel like I get NOTHING done during the day.

I need to find my flow.

Psychology defines “flow” as, “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment”. We’ve all felt this before: We’re working on something and the distractions melt away, you’re highly productive and time passes in a blink of an eye. When you stop, you don’t feel exhausted you feel invigorated, happy, proud, accomplished.

I feel that when I’m creating and writing – when I am producing good content to put out into the world. I’ve done very little of that in the past two months.

So what does it take to get into a Flow State? I did a little research and found that generally, experts agree that the following “triggers” or things need to occur to prompt a flow state:

1. Eliminate All Distractions: This is the core advice of finding flow and when I read it I thought, well shit, I’m doomed. When I’ve been in a flow state before, I have removed all my distractions. I’ve turned off my internet on my computer, put my phone on do not disturb, cleared my calendar, alerted my colleagues I was going to be unavailable, and left the house and headed to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space where I didn’t know anyone. The absence of distractions allowed me to stay focused and not get diverted by an email or phone call. Eliminating distractions now – in quarantine – feels literally impossible.

2. Work at Your “Biological Peak Time”: For me that time is early in the morning until about 12 or 1 p.m. I’m a wasteland of productivity after 2 p.m. every single day of the week. If I want to flow, I have to get at it early in the morning. I honestly do some of my very best work rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. and plopping in front of a computer almost immediately. I think it doesn’t give me time to get distracted by anything else – and I get into my flow quickly and easily. I save the mindless or easy tasks for the afternoon. The ones I can do easily, with or without distractions, without energized focus.

3. Work on a Singular, Specific Task that is Challenging, But Not Too Challenging: Every time I have been able to get into my flow state, I am focused on writing a singular chunk of curriculum or a blog on a specific topic. You can’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a book” or “I’m going to solve global hunger.” That will leave you more anxious than productive – and as a result you won’t get into your flow state.

4. Have a Clear Outcome or Goal: These days I have 100 goals and a creative to-do list a mile long. I feel paralyzed by it – which is probably why I’ve been able to achieve none of it. I need to pick one, singular chunk of curriculum or content and focus on finishing it in one sitting. The outcome has to be achievable in a single sitting and if it can’t, it needs to be chunked up into smaller goals – so that you can see AND reach the finish line in a reasonable amount of time.

5. Create a Mental Trigger: Mental triggers are essentially something you do every time you sit down to get into a flow state – that way your brain starts to build a habit sequence around that action. It allows you to get into your flow state more quickly. I’ve been writing and creating for so long that I know I have two key triggers – and both include a great cup of coffee.

One is sitting down at a coffee shop. I generally hate working from coffee shops. They’re loud and you can’t take phone calls. The internet is spotty and it’s sometimes impossible to find place to sit down and spread out without feeling guilty about it. My favorite spot has ample seating and the BEST coffee in town (Noble Coffee). I’m a sucker for their Highlander Grog brew and their plethora of seating options. My brain knows when I sit down there, with a piping hot cup of coffee, that it’s time to write. My other trigger is getting up insanely early (between 4 and 5 a.m. ) and sitting down at my dining room table with my laptop and a cup of fresh brew. In the past, I’ve generally used this trigger when there’s an impending deadline that I need to meet. I use this time a lot to create speaking outlines or prepare for presentations. I do some of my best work in the wee hours of the morning, in the silence of my dining room.

All of this research helped me realize what I need to do to feel more productive and get back into my flow. As I write this blog, I’m sitting in the silence of my dining room at an insanely early hour with a great cup of coffee. While I can only dream about the days when I’ll return to my favorite coffee shop, I’ve committed to using the early morning hours at home for creativity and writing. I already feel better. As Leanne asked at the end of our interview together, “What does Bliss feel like to me?” This is bliss.

The question now becomes, “What’s blocking you from finding your flow?”