The Flow Code: The Basics of “Getting To Flow”

In my last article, I alluded to the teachings of the venerable Barney Stinson, many of whom consider to be The Master of Awesome. Not only does he “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”, but he can also pen a solid opus about it. I recently read his work, The Bro Code, which is essentially a bible for the brotherhood of men. If you adhere to the carefully/comedically crafted code, you’ll become a “balanced bro.” Needless to say, I’m working on it. I’ll get there eventually.

But, as usual, Mr. Stinson got me thinking: Why isn’t there a code out there that helps you keep an awesome mindset at work? I was on to something. However, someone was on to it before I was. His name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, noted psychologist and author of Flow—the Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chicks sent me high”) explains how when you’re in a state of flow, anything you’re doing can be truly awesome.

The Basics of Getting to Flow

“Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

So how do you get to this place? Well, here are some of the basics you can put into place to help you “achieve flow”:

1. Get Evolved Then Get Involved

One of the first things that is a factor in “getting to flow” is to immerse yourself in whatever task is at hand. This is much easier to do when you enjoy your work, so if you’re not there then find a way to get there. Nothing will hamper you progress more in life than doing something you don’t like doing for work…no matter how much you get paid. It makes it difficult—if not impossible—to achieve a state of flow when you can’t find joy in your work. Right now, I’m totally immersed in writing this piece. Nothing else is distracting me. Now, it took some mental prodding to get me here, but now that I’m here I feel the words just flowing through me. It’s a really freeing feeling to have.

2. Addition Through Subtraction

Flow only works if you commit yourself fully to a lot of focus on a very limited area of tasks and goals. If you’ve ever watched the night sky you’ll find it’s much easier to focus on a shooting star than on fireworks…and that’s how your mind works. Remember, when you split your mindset, your focus splits as well.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that negative energy coming from outside sources needs to be cast aside as well. Disgruntled colleagues and impatient clients are just two examples of the many counterproductive elements that can disrupt your flow. Eliminate them either through limited or no engagement during the process. I’ve found that flow generally happens for me when no one’s around. For those things that you know you need absolute solitude for, schedule to do them when outside distractions will be nonexistent (or at the barest of minimums).

Oh, and unless your task is to “research web articles” or something similar, turn off the Internet. Seriously. Use an application like Freedom, the LeechBlock extension or something else to do it. There is no bigger tool for destroying flow than the very thing that enabled you to come here in the first place. The word “enable” is used for a reason here, folks.

On second thought, just turn off your computer. After you’re done with this, of course.

3. It Does Matter If It’s Black Or White

Flow is more readily available to you when you know the stakes. Goals and expectations must be clear. A loose deadline makes flow that much more difficult to attain—mainly because procrastination can rear its ugly head. If these aren’t set for you, set them for yourself. Be ruthless. The state of flow is so all-encompassing that you need to be strict with yourself so you can get there easier. Self-discipline is such a key factor.

One of the things that helps me with this is to have a junior legal pad (white for my own creative work, yellow for my regular workplace) next to me while I’m working. Before I get down to work, I write down my objectives for that session (usually about 3-4 items at a time—very similar to Leo Babauta’s Big Rocks). I keep them manageable, a mixed bag of things that will take some time with stuff that won’t. Don’t put too much on this list at once or you’ll feel overwhelmed and both flow and progress will grind to a halt. Highlight each item (or cross them off, whatever works for you) as you finish them. Once you’ve done ALL the tasks listed you can either add 3-4 more to the pad or close up shop for the day.

By keeping these basics in mind and making them a regular habit, you’ll find yourself in a position to feel a great sense of accomplishment and have achieved what you needed each time you get down to work. You’re no longer going to be working as hard towards getting to flow. Flow will be there when you’re ready to get back at it.

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Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. Bob Bessette on the 20th September

    I particularly love the definition of “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is kind of what ballplayers call “The Zone” when nothing at all distracts them from the task at hand. Oftentimes I also get to flow while I am working but, due to the nature of the job, other employees need my help. So there are certainly distractions that come with the territory.
    I also like the list “big rocks” practice. I do the same thing where I make a list of what I need to accomplish each day. Sometimes what I will do if I want to avoid distractions is reserve a small conference room and schedule a meeting with myself. I grab my laptop and hook up to the network in that room. If a coworker sees me in there they will tend to wait until I am out instead of barging in. It works for me. I really liked this post.

    Bob Bessette

  2. Mr. I on the 20th September

    Regarding #2, “Addition Through Subtraction”, I fully agree with you . Closing the browser and disconnecting is best thing to do when doing any writing work. Even a email can distract a lot. Just 5 min. ago, I was writing a blog post, a mail arrived and tada, I got distracted and started participating in forum(the mail was a reply notification).

    You mentioned good basics and I will keep those in mind. OK, so I will go back to work, disconnecting now!

  3. Daquan Wright on the 20th September

    So true, I often find really loose deadlines leave a lot of….hang time. I find it much easier to work with a stricter list and to stick to that list regardless of what it entails. I also agree with the internet being distracting, you just have to be disciplined enough to put it to the side.

    It’s like my coach always said, “We can’t finish if we don’t get started.”

  4. Anne on the 22nd September

    Very true about computers and other people causing distractions. Sometimes I find the only way to focus and get a task done is good old paper and pen and hide out in a room other than my office. A good reminder that maybe I need to do it more often.

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