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Core Principles for Rapidly Attaining Creative Flow

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Read Time: 8 min

Consistently achieving a state of focused concentration can be difficult. There are some simple techniques you can employ that will have you rapidly entering this blissful creative and productive zone. Learn the benefits of Flow and how to get into that hyper-productive groove.

Rapidly Attaining Creative Flow—Quick Overview

  1. Create your optimal environment for working on your creative projects. For me it's my office. Mine is like a cave, or a big closet. It's as removed as possible, situated in a far corner of my house. That way, external distractions are minimized and I'm able to focus.
  2. Each day prioritize your tasks. Arrange them so that you have time to focus on the creative part of a project. Schedule this time of day during your peak performance hours. For me that's in the morning. Fully commit to this time. Turn off your email, your phone, and your feeds. Don't allow anything to break your concentration. Lock the door if you have to and turn on some music.
  3. Start creating. Fully enjoy this creative time and be in the moment. Allow yourself to ignore your internal needs. Let time and worries drift away from your consciousness. Focus deeper and become completely absorbed in your work.
  4. Continue to push and challenge yourself in your work. If a problem presents itself that is too complex, quickly break it down into manageable parts and keep working, keep flowing, and keep creating.

Kaboomb! A bomb just went off or you finished your work. Otherwise, nothing is pulling you out of this zone!

Recognizing Flow

Flow can occur in virtually any activity that we do. Athletes can relate to being "in the zone"—hitting your shots, dribbling past another player, stealing the ball. What can I say, I love basketball. Whether you're a basketball player, surfer, skater, runner, boxer doesn't matter—you've felt it.

Visual artists experience flow just as commonly as athletes. When your actions, ideas, goals, and mental images merge, you're in the flow. The feeling is intense, powerful, and wonderful. Your work is moving along and you're totally absorbed in it. Everything is working. Visual problems you encounter you're able to solve, or prioritize, and come back to at the right moment. Flow leads to quality work results, memorable experiences, and a happy life as an artist. Below is a quick checklist to recognize when you're in flow.

  • Happiness—If you are enjoying your work, then you're likely in the flow.
  • Time Loss—Ever been working so hard you look up and three hours have gone by, but it felt like ten minutes? Or you just have no idea how long you've been working on something?
  • Hunger-Schmunger—Forgetting about your basic needs, like food or sleep. Do be careful!
  • Confidence—It's less a feeling of confidence than a feeling of not worrying. You are so absorbed in what you're doing that self-consciousness and fear of failure disappears.

The list above gives you a good idea of the benefits of flow. You're productive, fully concentrated, and enjoying your work. Being in the flow is an ideal state of mind for a designer or visual artist. It's something to strive for daily. It's intrinsically rewarding. Fortunately, it's also beneficial to our work.

5 Principles for Attaining Creative Flow

Wouldn't it be cool if there was a shortcut Flow button on your keyboard? We have Delete and Help. Why not Flow? If you pressed it, you suddenly were fully concentrated on your work and producing fantastic results. Unfortunately, attaining a state of flow isn't quite that simple, though it's not difficult, either. You can easily create optimal conditions for you to enter the flow. Use a few relatively simple techniques to encourage rapid entry into a state of creative flow.

1. Set Optimal Flow Conditions

If you suffer from succumbing to temptation or if there are identifiable annoyances that hinder your ability to enter flow, then remove them from the situation. If it's e-mail, turn it off. If it's the television, throw it out the window. Remove the distraction. It will improve your ability to enter the flow.

Also be awake. If you haven't slept well in days, you'll have difficulty achieving flow. No, coffee and soda are not magical flow elixirs. Try to maintain your health over the long-term. This is part of setting your flow agenda.

You want to set the optimal environment and alert mental state to be able to enter creative flow. Pick the time of day that you work best to do your most challenging work. Set your environment up so that you will not be distracted. Also, set aside enough time to accomplish your task and have an enjoyable "in the zone" work session.

Know your tools. It's difficult to flow if you haven't become one with your instruments. A warrior won't win battles without knowing how to wield their sword. Keep practicing with the tutorials here on Psdtuts+ and elsewhere.

2. Game the Right Level of Challenge

Think of it as a video game. If it's so hard that you can't get past the first part of level one, then you're going to get frustrated. If you sit down and save the princess in 30 minutes, well now you're bored. You have to set the right gaming conditions in your creative work.

Break down the level of difficulty so that it's challenging. The idea is that it should require you to concentrate fully to accomplish. If it's too hard you'll be tempted to do something else and it will be difficult to get into the flow.

Clearly define the problem you will solve and the tasks you will complete. If you have a large task to accomplish, break it down into smaller pieces that form a workable challenge.

3. Concentrate Fully

Start creating. Fully enjoy this creative time and be in the moment. Allow yourself to ignore your internal needs. Let time and worries drift away from your conscious mind. Focus deeper and become completely absorbed in your work. Ignore your internal cynic. When you're warming up to a flow state don't be overly critical of your work. Do recognize if something isn't good enough, but don't let it stop you from continuing to work. Often perfection is the enemy of high-quality, really good work.

Keep in mind you will likely have to force yourself to work hard until things start to flow. The first few steps are always the most difficult. Push yourself until you get a good flow going.

4. Get Absorbed in the Moment

Allow worries and fears to subside. Let self doubt fall to the side. Allow time to drift away from your consciousness. Let internal needs, like hunger, become irrelevant. As you become more aware and more focused on your work, everything else becomes blocked by this creative fog that forms around you. Allow everything but your work to disappear in that fog.

5. Have Fun

One of the key ingredients to being in the flow is that you are enjoying what you're doing. Try to approach every task in such a way that you'll go into the flow. Some tasks easily go into flow. Creative flow is actually easier than flowing in projects that you find boring.

Set up the projects you need to accomplish so that they are fun. Creative flow is intrinsically rewarding. Try to balance other needs and accomplish business tasks that need to be attended to and set aside special time for being creative. If you're a designer or an illustrator then your projects will have multiple stages that you can get into that creative zone.

Prolonging Creative Flow

Once you're in flow its important to keep it going. If you're in the flow designing a really cool Web site in Photoshop, don't stop. If you're working well and it's break time, work through your break. Skip lunch. Just keep going. This is especially true if you have difficulty entering flow or if you have multiple non-creative tasks you also have to get done. Work on staying in the groove once you get there.

Practicing Creative Flow

Track how well you're entering creative flow each day. Did you go into flow for two hours today, but only one yesterday? Analyze what helped get you into the flow. Consider any distractions. Practice and work on improving your ability to get into the flow daily. The more you practice and pay attention to what is working, the quicker and easier you'll be able to enter creative flow.

Further Reading

If you're interested in learning more about creative flow, follow the links below. These links also served as resources in creating this article.


Flow is the reason I became a designer. The feeling of creation—putting together the basic elements of design and fusing them into a new vision. It's a great feeling. Leave some comments about your feelings on flow. How do you get into flow? What prevents you from getting into the flow? Are you in the flow right now?

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