Don't Compete on Time or Effort --Win by Focusing on Depth using a 3-Step Flow State Framework

Don't Compete on Time or Effort --Win by Focusing on Depth using a 3-Step Flow State Framework
Photo by kazuend / Unsplash

The rules for success are becoming clearer every day -- it's not what you know or what you do.

It's how you do it.

First, it was the Internet.

The smartest person in the room was the one with the best wifi signal.

Now it's AI.

All the mundane work in our world - formatting, organizing, rewriting - awaits behind a few clicks in a machine learning model.

Consider this your wake-up call, as doing more work or faster work is no longer a competitive advantage. This goes for your office job, your start-up, and everywhere you work.

You need to find a new path forward. Not just for survival, which is what your lizard brain is probably freaking out about reading this. For impact. For change. For value.

"Don't aim to be the best. Aim to be the only." ~ Kevin Kelly

Create New Rules for the Game You are Playing

TLDR; Create your own game in order to win the game.

One option is to do what futurist @Kevin2Kelly suggests - move your slider from "building widgets" to building something totally unique.

Don't just become a chef, be a chef who only cooks things you grow.

Don't just write, interview and surface the power of technology to transform homeschooling.

Don't just practice law; serve your clients by educating them and providing templates that make them better and smarter.

This is an intersectional strategy. Taking your core interest or competency and matching it with another niche. The combination creates a new category, a new niche. One that you can own or be really good at.

But what about all of you who are already doing something?

In knowledge work if you do a great job vs a good job vs an ok job, the difference to your employer in terms of what it's worth is 0x, 10x, 100x. @naval

Winners Take All

TLDR; The competitive landscape means only a handful can "win."

You can see this already in places where you work or spend your time.

There is someone who is at a 10x level of competency, knowledge, or skill.

In the Ironman triathlon world, at least 50 professionals compete at the world championships. But only the top three finishers "make it" from year to year, thanks to sponsorships and endorsements.

Or eating contests. Does anyone ever remember the second-place person? I don't know the first place person either, but you get the idea. In a competitive environment, there are predators, and then there are alpha predators.

If you have a consistent ability to out-think the competition, anticipate the future, or turn complex data into customer sales -- you will be rewarded. The economics of success, whether it's financial or social, means that game changers are the most valued players on the board.

In a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top executives reported being five times more productive in flow. Think about that for a moment. This means, if you can spend Monday in flow, you’ll get as much done as your steady-state peers do in a week. In fact, according to these same McKinsey researchers, if we could increase the time we spend in flow by 15-20%, overall workplace productivity would almost double. [article]

Unlock Your Depth Potential in the Flow State

TLDR; Access flow state at work to dramatically improve your output.

Flow state, also known as "being in the zone," refers to a state of optimal performance and immersion in an activity. This can be at work or at play.

Flow is a mental state where we experience complete focus, heightened concentration, and a sense of effortless engagement.

Lance Armstrong called these "no chain days" where it felt like he wasn't even having to pedal hard to move the bike.

It's not that the task at hand is easier, or we work at 10x the speed. It's the experience of being in the state of working.

Time seems to fly by, and most people experience a deep sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in what they are doing.

Now imagine having this power on hand, on demand, and the ability to apply it to the most important work you do.

Not to 5x your productivity like the folks at McKinsay (see quote) are likely trying to do to their staff, but to unlock time outside of your "most critical" work to do other things. Be a human. Be social. Explore new opportunities. Grow.

Let's do this.

Step 1: Define Your Current Flow State Baseline

TLDR; Find and examine your current experiences with flow state.

Flow state is so personal; we need to meet it where it lives now.

Do you have it when you play? Or practice something?

What do you do that you just lose yourself in? Where does time not really matter to you? (No, Netflix does not count!).

If it's not a current-day thing, reach back to recall when that last happened.

Once you've found it, click in. 🎯

  • What was it like?
  • What were you doing?
  • What made it effortless?

Let's try to get back there. Before you can conjure a flow state at work, let's work on recreating it where you already know it's possible.

If it was running...break out those kicks. If it was playing the piano, it is time to find a baby grand! Leave no stone unturned.

Practice Makes Possible

Maintain this alternate flow state during this work adaptation process if you can. Tapping into that space "naturally" will help you surface the power and potentiality of that experience. When it's front of mind, you'll have a better chance of connecting that to when you are working.

📣 PSA This is another reason why being an athlete is a cheat code for success. Doing something you love in motion as an athlete is precisely the experience we seek. If you love to run, chances are you don't take your laptop with you and make conference calls while checking your calendar! 🤣

“Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things.” @timferriss

Step 2: Re-Create Conditions for Flow

TLDR; Access

One of the most integral parts of the flow state is the environment. Not only what you are doing but where. And when. Everything aligns to create the potential, and 80% of your "flow state" preparation work will revolve around ensuring everything is ready.

  • Be Prepared: Do you have everything you need? No getting up, searching for stuff, or hopping on the web for just a second. We want the space (and your tools) ready from the start.
  • Remove Distractions: Work is a minefield of distractions. Notifications. Emails. Web-based platforms. Slack messages. The list goes on. To bring flow to your work, you will need to remove some distinctly "work" things from this time. Some folks prefer to start the day early (or stay up late). Others can do Do Not Disturb. Perhaps you have a dedicated no-notification time (or deep work time) as part of your day -- if so, let's use that!
  • Remove the Admin: We'll also need to ensure the "other work" on your plate is dealt with. One option is to batch your work until a specific time frame. Another method could be to delegate that work to a virtual assistant or a teammate. You are likely already waging a war against admin tasks, even outside of your flow state pursuit. Use this focus as another chance to strike!

Create a Ritual: Like a good warm-up before your race or performance, there are specific conditions that will help you enter a flow state. It could be certain music, your favorite room at the library, or a quick 15' power walk that gets you in the zone. Whatever it is, try to keep it simple. Repeating this ritual will help you train your productive mind to access the flow state more readily and more often.

⚡ Power Move: Create a Template

Even before you know what truly triggers flow state, keep track of the steps you take before each attempt -- a flow state journal if you will. Over time, trends will begin to emerge from the notes you'll have taken. Once you are confident in these steps, create a template for what you need to do -- having your own blueprint removes the burden and makes it as simple as following instructions!!

Love Templates?! Check out The Agency Agenda, our template for managing your days to be more productive!

Step 3: Practice & Refine Your Flow State

TLDR; You can't expect to be good at this on your first attempt. Or your fifth.

The goal isn't to be good at flow. The more you try to force flow, the more it will elude you. Instead, you will want to create a flow "quest" to learn all the different ways you can (1) make flow happen and (2) maximize your time in the flow state.

If you're learning, then having setbacks and making changes is just part of what we do. Remain undaunted; even just 30 minutes of flow state can be impactful. And once you have access to this state, you'll unconsciously want more of it.

  • Pick a Window: What time of day is best for you to engage in this learning practice? Don't be afraid to block off a few different options at first. You might be surprised at what works for you.
  • Prepare for the Work: Have everything at ready, including peace and quiet. Nothing kills a focus session like finding a pen or a charger. Or countless pings, beeps, and boops.
  • Block Off Time: Don't be greedy. Use your calendar to find three 1-hour blocks in a given week to start. Maybe make that 1:15 so you have 15 minutes to prep before starting.

Focus on One Thing: Know what you plan to do. Are you writing a chapter of a book? Researching a specific topic? Practicing a particular move? Whatever it is, dive in. This is so important that even if you complete this task before the flow state is up, stop the flow state. The flow was successful; we'll save future experiences for future work we have planned!

⚡ Power Move: Rate the Flow State

The Power of Future Flow

Make no mistake; this won't be easy. But the reward is worth the pursuit. The rat race to find more time or more energy only takes those finite resources from other areas of your life.

Winning in one area of your life while losing somewhere else is dangerous and unsustainable. There's more to life than work.

Once you have cultivated the ability to unlock flow as part of your week, you will likely even find you have an even better work experience.

After all, who doesn't like to do what they are good at!? 😁

Scroll onwards for some more reading on flow state and how it can help you!

Flow State Reading List

  • "Living in Flow: The Science of Synchronicity and How Your Choices Shape Your World" by Sky Nelson-Isaacs - Explore the fascinating concept of flow and synchronicity, and discover how your choices impact your reality. Link to the book
  • "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance" by Steven Kotler - Delve into the world of extreme sports and uncover the secrets behind achieving peak performance and unlocking human potential. Link to the book
  • "Flow State: The Key to ecstatic living and complete self-mastery" by Jackson Peterson - Dive into the concept of flow state and its potential to unlock peak performance and profound fulfillment in all aspects of life. Link to the book
  • "Stealing Fire: How Maverick Scientists, Technologists, and Entrepreneurs are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work" by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal - Explore the cutting-edge research and practices that are pushing the boundaries of human performance and consciousness. Link to the book
  • "Flow: The Foundations of Positive Psychology" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - Discover the groundbreaking work on flow and its role in enhancing happiness, creativity, and overall well-being. Link to the book