Make Work Effortless and Spontaneous: 7 Practical Ways To Trigger The Flow State

Somedays it all clicks. You’re getting work done, and somehow it all just seems to a bit easier and slightly more fun than usual. Whether you know it or not, it’s highly likely you’re in a flow state. This term was coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and is an “optimal state where we feel our best and perform our best.”

In 2004 he did an exceptional Ted talk about flow, its ESSENTIAL viewing. Csíkszentmihályi explains the origins of the flow channel (state) and talks about how it can be become a readily available version of an alternate reality, even bordering on a temporary suspension of the feeling of one’s existence. He also identifies a critical point that flow comes from an optimal combination of challenge and skill. Flow is achieved when you’re challenged and utilizing the skills you have.

Seems pretty awesome, right? While Csíkszentmihályi identifies the seven conditions of flow in the video above, we want to share our practical tips to lead you to the flow state.

1. Remove Distractions

Tax Law Offices. Where the Magic Happens

Life is inherently distracting, especially in the workplace. Distractions are the number 1 enemy of flow, as its a need to find a way to channel your focus in a singular direction. If you find it too hard to focus while working on your laptop at your desk, go analog, get a piece of paper and a pencil, and extract yourself from the environment. Flow can be achieved within groups, but as a practice is going to be essential that you can find a path alone. Go as far away from everything as you need to.

2. Learn To Identify The Flow State

Science. Wavy Lines. Science.

This is likely the easiest point on this list. At some point you will have felt it. When you feel it however momentary. Identify it.

3. Remember What Triggered It Last Time

Elephants Never Forget. They must use a lot of Post-It notes

As you start to be more mindful of identifying when you are in the flow state, if you can catch yourself, identify the conditions or anything that feels to encourage/trigger the flow state and note them down. If there isn’t, don’t panic, don’t interrupt the flow.

4. Find Your Trigger

This Is Nils Frahm. He Is A Genius. Listen To Nils Frahm

We find that flow (once identified) is stimulated/encouraged/triggered by certain conditions. We talked about the need to be free from distraction. By immersing yourself in things created in the flow state, it can help stimulate your flow state. If you watched the Ted Talk, you would have noticed how flow is right alongside arousal. Flow is about doing the things you love well.

Our most reliable flow trigger is a piece of music. “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More” by Nils Frahm. Seriously, watch this video. Frahm is the embodiment of flow in this performance; he performs something incredibly elaborate with an immense level of skill. Something extraordinary is going on. Yes, those are actual toilet brushes. There is no distinction between composer, performer, and instrument. Actual flow state writ large, also watch to end and listen to the crowd reaction to what they just witnessed.

We’re Not Crying. You’re Crying.

While it might not be music that acts as your trigger, identify a location, scent, or mood you can use as an anchor. Think of it as the spinning top in Inception, a way to identify mind-state.

Hans Zimmer Inception Soundtrack Is Also Another Flow State Masterpiece

5. Do Something Challenging, Ideally Something You Love

The most obvious thing from Csíkszentmihályi’s work is that to get that feeling of work being effortless and spontaneous that the work has to be something that is both challenging and something you are highly skilled at. In the explanation used in the TED video, you can see the importance of these factors. States exist around flow and are related to if the task is not enough of a challenge, or you don’t have the skill to complete it.

6. If It’s Not Happening, Don’t Panic

It would be naive to believe that all focussed people are frequently in the flow state. That’s simply not the case. If we refer to the diagram above, we can see that anxiety, worry, apathy, and boredom dominate the left-hand side of the image. We’ve all experienced these feelings, and these ebb and flow through the working day. While working to identify when you’re in the flow state, it also makes sense to determine when work is just that, work.

7. Practice

Robin Hood. The Early Years.

We can’t stress this enough, but skill plays a huge part in the flow state. Not only is there a need to become accomplished at the task you’re working on, but you need to find something you love. In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell identifies the 10,000Hour Rule. He states that to succeed in any field, you need to do that task for 10,000 hours: 20 hours of work a week for ten years. In 2018 Gladwell did identify that merely doing a job for 10,000 hours is not a substitute for other innate talent and that to become genuinely skilled is likely to take much longer than you think. He described the 10,000 hours figure as “a metaphor for the extent of commitment necessary in cognitively complex fields.”

Long story short, if you want to be highly skilled work at it.


5 Proven Ways To Develop An Authentic Voice For Your Business Blog … AND Maintain It

So you’ve started a blog. Or you’re just about to. You know it’s a great driver of the Inbound Approach. You are fired up, you’ve already read this post and you are fast approaching PEAK FLOW STATE. You are unstoppable! Go you!

We Get It. You’re A Peacock. We Have To Let You Fly!

Not so fast muchacho! Have you thought how you’re going to talk to your audience? In a way that builds credibility, adds value and delights your audience? It’s not just what you say but how you say it. The problem with the internet is its now really easy to publish content, and that includes bad content as well as good.

So how can you find your authentic voice not just for your blog but also all of the inbound messaging you use throughout your business and more importantly how can you maintain it? especially if there is more than a single person speaking on behalf of your business or brand?

Use these five proven tips to help you get started.

Before We Start: What are you like in Real Life?

Think about the way you act and speak. Are you excitable? Are you quiet? Are you rash? Are you judgemental? The truth is that your written voice is going to be much like your spoken tone. Many will deny that, but when creating content (at volume and pace) it’s going to become apparent fairly quickly. One of the ways to minimise overbearing tone can be to employ a guiding editor but that’s going to impact dramatically on the first point below …

1. Be Authentic

Down With The Kids? Sure, We LOVE Stripped Down Italian Speedcore and Free Jazz. Coolio.

You have heard this a million times, but it’s absolutely true. Throughout life you’re told Just Be Yourself, and despite what a hundred internet gurus might tell you its always better to present your true self, and not your perceived self.

Think about it like this. You’re going to a party. You decide to make yourself more interesting by putting on a French accent, it’s all going well at first and you’re regaling the guests with your tales of living in Paris. Then you make that one comment, and you’re done.

But how is it possible to have this level of authenticity when there are multiple voices speaking for your brand? Exactly the same. Allow the voices within your own organisation to add colour and richness to your tone, not only will it illustrate the diversity of thought inside your organisation, but it’s highly likely they will bring an energy to your content that might not be able to.

You got to have style and learn to be original.

“My Philosophy” Boogie Down Productions (1988)

ProTip: Writing guides, brand guidelines and micromanagement of content creation is going to kill authenticity. Create a workflow that empowers content creators but aligns with your company tone.

2. Always Have Your Buyer Persona In Mind

Looking Up And To Your Right Means You’re Thinking Or Lying. I Forget Which.

The Inbound approach gives us a true north, The Buyer Persona. When creating obessively think, how am I adding value to my audience? We’re not suggesting that you compromise what you say or how you say it, but think both about tone and content. Seth Godin often talks about being as narrow as possible to be viable, meaning try and be laser focussed on what your intended audience need at the point when they come to you for help. As much as you might want to include holiday photos or concert reviews on your blog if its about Inbound Marketing (for instance) stick to that subject.

ProTip: Be incredibly careful to not just create content that is of interest to you. If thats what you want to do start a private blog or write a diary. Remember: Always try to add value!

3. Don’t Try and Bluff It

The Special Effects Were Better In Total Recall (The Original, Not The Remake)

This really shouldn’t be said, but we will. Along the lines of being authentic, if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Just stop. If you are a business owner identify the one thing that you are an expert at, and focus on that one area. This area of expertise will be of interest of others, being a generalist makes the content harder to find, and also puts it into a much bigger pool of content where it’s less likely to be found. Be as specific as you can.

4. Don’t Use Ten Dollar Words

Ernest Hemingway In A Hat. Hats Are Always Good.

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway might have been talking about Faulkner when he spoke of ten-dollar words but its essential advice for all of us. It’s all too easy to lapse into flowery language and buzzwords as a way to make yourself look like an expert. This approach is illustrated in the Campaign for Plain English which has been running since 1979 in the UK. If you can’t explain what you do simply then it’s likely you can’t explain it at all. When looking at it from the Inbound Perspective you have no idea of who is reading the content so to make it as widely accessible is common sense. If you are an expert in a field that is emergent in other markets this becomes crucial as the audience might be reading content that is not in their native language.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Use Humour

We’re Playing With Fire Here. I Can Feel It.

We give this advice with a caveat. Humour can be an incredibly powerful tool to build connections. Obviously it has be in keeping with the overall tone, and if your business is incredibly somber it might not be an optimal idea. However if you have the confidence and ability, test and learn and see if it can help drive your content performance and engagement. Unless you’re elsewhere in the cosmos, your blog audience is 100% human and pretty much all of that audience will have a sense of humour.

ProTip: Humour often doesn’t travel well across borders so bear that in mind when thinking of your international audience.

Eating Our Own Dogfood: The Inbound Pilot Approach

To Be 100% Honest. I Always Wondered How Scooby Doo Could Talk …

Inbound Pilot is a small business and blog based in Boston, MA. Just like you, we are competing for the attention of a global audience using an Inbound Approach. So what is the voice that we have chosen to use? We’re eating our own dog-food and practising what we preach. The phrase “eating your own dog food” originates from Microsoft in the late 1980s and means the internal use of a company’s own products or services in its day-to-day operations. If the ideas presented here are good enough for our audience or clients then it means they are good enough ideas for Inbound Pilot to use itself.

ProTip: We inject humour into the subject of Inbound Marketing primarily through the captions we add to the imagery in the blog. Imagery works well to guide the viewer of the page through the blog, and allows for a visual stimulus alongside the text. However, we decided that simply captioning the imagery with words to describe what the viewer could see was dry. So we decided to mix it up. It’s a thing we do. You’re welcome.

Bonus ProTip: When using a quote, we always align with the right hand side of the page as it helps the flow of the article and helps the reader keep reading.

Generic Business Man Thanks You For Reading This Far Down The Page

Fake News: Why Media Bias and Fact-Checking Shouldn’t Pollute Linked In And What It Says About You

It’s long been considered that it’s better to be apolitical in the working world. Whether you lean right or left, the conventional wisdom is that the least said is better. Politics falls into the same category as religion and money.

As workplaces become more informal, and associates get to know each other over time political allegiances become visible and differences come to the surface. HR departments create policy around such issues and individuals have to play it safe, for fear of potential political misalignment with the boss. Long story short, it’s a delicate area.

If individuals are cautious at work, surely it makes sense they would be online too? especially given its visibility to colleagues, clients and potential business partners?

This doesn’t seem to always be the case. We can’t be alone in noticing the dissolution of the formality found on Linked In from two to three years ago, people are now sharing memes, fundraisers and all kinds of content more traditionally shared on Facebook. This transition isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does leave individuals open to posting content that says much more about them than they might think.

In the post Cambridge Analytica, “Post Truth” era we are all aware of the pollution of Facebook and the damage caused by the sharing of content into a social environment. Linked In equally has the ability to become an echo chamber for misinformation and lies and with a UK election, the forthcoming BREXIT process and US elections on the horizon we owe it to ourselves and those around us to scrutinize the content we share, the bias it represents and the message behind the content.

Fact-checking, integrity and scrutiny of data is something we do every day in our business roles, it makes perfect sense that we should do that on Linked In too.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything

Mark Twain

Top 5 Tips On How To Create Great Content Ideas In Non-Creative Environments e.g. Your Office

The thought of it still sends a shudder down your spine. Be it a blank computer screen, an empty piece of paper or the void of a whiteboard. You quietly whisper to yourself “Ok, NOW is the time to think creatively, Lets go … “

The biggest problem you face is that you’re likely in the least creative place on earth. Your office. Even if you work at LEGO with its slides or Google with its rooms themed like the inside of a submarine, there isn’t always an easy way to get into the flow state. It just doesn’t work like that.

The worse case scenario is often when someone tries to instigate a “brainstorm”, or even worse a “thought-shower” this usually leads to two outcomes:

  1. 95% of the group looking around whilst umming and ahhing desperately trying to pull ideas from thin air
  2. 5% of the group wildly shouting random ideas, whilst robbing the room of oxygen like everything they throw out is a pearl of wisdom “We need a blog post about how Inbound Marketing is like 18th century military strategy” or “… our next Facebook Live should be filmed by an otter on a ferris wheel contemplating the meaning of life”

As we can see. Neither of these approaches is optimal and more often than not the content ideation task can fall to an individual, You. The problem is that there are deadlines, agencies to be briefed and content calendars to be filled. All of these can create pressure, when you need it the least.

So how can you create an environment to give yourself the space to think and create?

Here are five suggestions:

Don’t Feel Like You’re Drowning When Creating Content

1. Breathe

As we said at the start, ideation can often feel like an artificial chore. Spoiler: WE CAN ALL FEEL LIKE THAT. Don’t worry everyone has a creative block from time to time, it’s just about how you get over it. It’s like falling asleep, if you lay there thinking you’re never going to fall asleep, you make it harder to fall asleep. It’s all about creating a headspace where you can be open to ideas, and let them flow. Maybe you’re struck by inspiration whilst walking round the block or looking out of the office window whilst getting coffee. Identify the moments when you have the headspace to think and embrace them. Often.

To Have A Great Idea Have A Lot of Them

Thomas Edison
Meet Sleepy Mom. That Alarm Clock Is Her Arch Nemesis.

2.Understand Your Buyer Persona

So, we’ve prepared our mind and we’re ready to rock. The easiest way to stop this process is to be unclear why you needed the content in the first place. Ever heard the phrase “Don’t Try And Boil The Ocean”, it means don’t try to undertake an impossible task or project or to make a job or project unnecessarily difficult. The best way to avoid that is to always go back to the buyer persona. For example: Our buyer persona is a first time mom who needs advice on getting her baby to sleep, so she can get some well deserved sleep herself. With that in mind create some targeted content that answers her question. Remember by being narrow your content can reach a very specific audience where you can add real value, this helps search engines drive the right people to the right content.

Unless You Have An Image Like This In Every Presentation You Don’t Work In Digital

3. Decide Where the Content Will Live

So, we have the headspace, the buyer persona in mind and the ideas are bubbling. Before we go any further we need to understand where the content will live, is it a Facebook post? A tweet? A piece of video content? Email content?

This can be critical as it informs what we are going to create. A 140 character tweet and blog post copy are two very different things. How do we decide? Go back to your buyer persona, and let them tell you where the content should live. Not 100% sure? Test and Learn. If we return to our buyer persona the Sleepy Mom: The last thing she probably wants is a 1000 word article right now, she wants a quick and immediate answer as she’s probably Googled the question with a griping baby in the other arm. Make the content as quick, easy and useful as possible. Maybe its a short listicle, or a 2 minute video. Make sure that you get to the right advice as quickly as possible. What you’re trying to avoid is trying to hold onto Mom for too long, she’s busy and tired, if you help her now don’t worry she’ll come back when she needs your help again.

Unless You Facepalm At Least Once A Day You’re Doing It Wrong

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

Everyone gets things wrong ALL the time. That’s life … we’re humans. So it can be nerve-wracking to create lots of content as there is usually a cost attached, and if it’s the “wrong content”, meaning it doesn’t work (more on content analysis later), there is a potential it’s money wasted.

PRO TIP: The “wrong content” rarely exists, if you had the buyer persona firmly in mind and were trying to add real value when creating the content it’s highly likely that your content might work, maybe the content was published in the incorrect place?

If your boss asks you why the content didn’t “work” try this. Simply say “It’s the right content, it’s just in the wrong place”. Going back to our sleepy mom. Maybe the content was relevant, but perhaps it would be better placed in an email that mom could read after she has managed to put baby to sleep and she can read at her leisure at 3.20am. Maybe thats the perfect place, as she could feel supported when the rest of the house is asleep around her.

Be Ruthless. Be More Jason.

5. Be Ruthless In Your Analysis (But Don’t Beat Yourself Up About It):

You’ve made it, you stimulated ideas! You focussed on your buyer persona, you considered the channel of publication and then you published and … it didn’t “work”.

This can often be a reason why content creation gets stifled. Too often the cost and effort of content creation is explained away by saying it wasn’t successful. The way to overcome this is to be absolutely clear in the objectives for the content before pressing publish. Too often content is asked to do two things when it was intended to solve one. Back to our sleepy mom, the content we created was supposed to answer the question of how to get a baby to sleep, it was never intended to drive product sales, think about it. As a mom you’re tired and need help, whats going to put you off a brand the quickest? Correct, a product message just when it’s not wanted. Be agnostic and give useful advice. That’s how you build trust. That’s how you get people to come back.

In short, being specific about objectives and realistic in your expectations can mean that you develop a wider understanding of the value of content. Remember once content has been published it can have a lifespan much longer than any initial campaign, and the right content can keep bringing people back to your site again and again.

No Coffee was Harmed In the Creation Of This Post

For the record: This post was composed on a Sunday morning, in a dressing gown, with a couple of cups of coffee before the kids woke up. The initial idea for the post had been on a list of draft posts that I had created a few days ago, and when I got up I used that list as a stimulus. Not quite as spontaneous as you might think.

Fake Work: What Telling Everyone You’re ALWAYS Busy Says About You

We’ve all been there.

  • You call a business contact, ask how they are and they answer “You know BUSY BUSY BUSY, it NEVER STOPS around here”
  • You bump into an office colleague getting coffee and they say “I can’t stop I am BACK TO BACK all day”, coincidentally these are the colleagues who are always 10 minutes late to any conference call and reiterate how busy they are (by being late) at the start of the call by saying they are BACK TO BACK with calls
  • You meet a tangential colleague and they tell you they are ALL ABOUT THE GRIND, alongside a throwaway fact to emphasize how amazingly driven they are.

Do you know what that says to me?

  • Your business contact is desperately trying to sell you on how indispensable their services are by trying to project that EVERYONE else is working with them and you should be too.
  • Your direct colleague is trying so hard to impress everyone all the time, that they’ve forgotten that taking the time to listen and connect in the brief moments where the day allows meaningful (albeit brief) human connection builds trust and affinity, that’s a useful commodity when working collaboratively. Also being late to every conference call doesn’t look impressive, it illustrates a lack of basic time management and influence skills. Get there on time. Don’t be THAT person.
  • The tangential colleague lacks self-confidence to take a moment and reflect on what’s happening right in front of them, to share an insight or ask what’s going on with your work, to broaden their own perspective. They’re simply playing a role.

We can all be busy. It’s easy, we can create meetings, workstreams, cross-functional teams, slack groups, email threads, video calls. It takes 10 seconds to send a meeting invite.

All of this misses a fundamental point.

Organizations are built from humans, and the connectivity of work communities depends on the effort that those members put into the building, nurturing and fostering of meaningful relationships that can be called upon when push comes to shove.

So think about it. The next time you call or bump into someone, try and resist the urge to emphasize how important you think you are, or how indispensable your product or service is and try and connect. Drop the facade, erase the ego and be human.

Because being human is good business.

OK, Boomer : Why Generational Thinking is Killing Smart Marketing

“Ok, Boomer”

You’re in one of two camps (perhaps three) when you hear that phrase:

  • Camp 1: Blissfully unaware of what it means
  • Camp 2: Either offended or not, or using the phrase as a way to disparage something antiquated from days of yore
  • Camp 3: Aware of what it means, and aware its a symptom of lazy thinking

If you’re in camp 1, Ok, boomer is an intergenerational meme that’s been rumbling around for much of 2019. It’s commonly presumed to be an insult from a younger generation to the older. PewDiePie endorses this meme. If you don’t know who PDP is, or what ‘meme’ means, then you know … “OK, Boomer”

It’s telling as its a topic that’s been around forever, the old people don’t understand ‘the kids’, whether it’s rock and roll in the 50s, mods and rockers in the 1960s, rave culture in the late 80s and 90s right up to VSCO girls … in fact it must have been there since caveman days. It’s a universal theme and its wrong.

Generational thinking is a pointless tired trope that marketers use every single day and really gets us nowhere. Still using the target audience of “Millenial Parents”? “Ok, Boomer”

The reason marketers use generational thinking is twofold:

  1. It’s really really easy, it looks ‘insightful’ when written on powerpoint and its something most senior leaders can understand. In short, it’s an easy sell.
  2. It’s so broad as to be meaningless, so it can be used to hide shortcomings in ‘the plan’.
  • The product didn’t sell? it was those flighty Millenials who prefer experience over physical things.
  • No-one watched the brand spot? Well you know … Millennials are drawn to brands with purpose, our brand values aren’t purposeful enough.
  • No-one showed up to your event? Millennials are time poor and strapped for cash, they probably spent too much on avocado toast and couldn’t afford to attend.

Seriously, stop it. Your plan failed.

So what’s the answer?

  1. Stop thinking about audiences as easily divisible buckets of people, that all act and think roughly the same.
  2. In fact, stop thinking about “audiences” altogether. Understand the digital DNA of your core customer, and truly understand their passions and motivations.
  3. Stop thinking that the key indicator of their behaviour is age, in the same way, that social class used to be a defining feature.
  4. Accept that you probably don’t really understand the end-user of your product in the depth you think you do. Put yourself in their shoes. Be customer-centric, don’t just say you are.
  5. Create a feedback loop that feeds customer-centric thinking back into the organisation that will meaningfully impact internal decisions, and becomes the must-have data point rather than a “nice to have”

The revolution has been long since televised, and organisations unable to adapt are already crumbling.

Don’t be the last one on the deck of the sinking ship … Ok, Boomer?