Beyond the research and common knowledge about productivity and flow, we decided to get some personal insights. We contacted a few friends with extraordinary skills or stories and asked them about their work process, productivity tips and flow experiences. These articles will be formatted around three questions.

The first person we talked to was D. I’ll refer to her as D throughout the article as she prefers to remain anonymous for future employment reasons.

D is a very promising self-taught artist. She makes incredible portrait drawings. And that’s not all. She’s just one year away from becoming a medicinal chemist.

More about D.

You already know that D makes drawings that 99.9% of us will never replicate. Not now, not ever. And that’s not because she has some kind of innate talent that the rest of us doesn’t possess. No, the reason is that she is very dedicated to her passions. She can work for hours on end to reach her goals. Nothing stands in her way. That’s called drive. 

Despite this remarkable talent, she is not that different from you and me. D also has doubts. Even though she receives requests on a daily basis, she has not yet decided whether to monetise on her art. She has definitely considered it but has not yet taken action. Why? Because it’s not her only passion. Besides drawing, she’s also really into science. Two different worlds, you say? Correct. Still, flow and focus are paramount in both worlds. 

So how did she manage to get to this awe-inspiring level by herself? And how does she combine this breathtaking art with her studies? Read on to discover her top 3 tips and tricks to find flow and improve her creative process.

Q1: What does her process look like?

When D starts working, she just goes on as she feels breaks interrupt her flow. Pomodoro timers are not for her. ‘If I take a break, I lose track of what I was doing or thinking and I just can’t get back to where I was.’ 

Only when she becomes too tired or too hungry, does she take a break. However, this mainly applies to her drawings. When she’s focused on a math problem, she becomes obsessed. Once she gets in the zone, there’s no stopping her. ‘The longer I study without a break, the better my focus becomes,‘ D says. Complete focus on the process is key to finding flow. Keep your eyes on the track until you see nothing but the track. When this happens, you lose all sense of time. This is exactly what D. experiences: ‘I get so into the drawing that sometimes I forget to eat. 6 hours of drawing feels like 1 or 2 hours.

Focussing on one task, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many of us hardly stop multitasking, which is extremely inefficient. That’s why D. doesn’t multitask. When she’s drawing or working on a college project, there’s no room for other input or output. This focus on the present manifests itself in her personal life as well. She rarely eats with her phone or laptop within reach, for example. 

Finally, she practises yoga and meditation regularly, two techniques that help her to live in the moment, find rest and improve focus. This, of course, has important benefits for her creative and analytical work.

Q2: What does she struggle with most?

When we first talked, D admitted that she often tends to rush while drawing because she can’t wait to see the result. She works non-stop on her creative projects and while that helps to find flow, it can often lead to silly mistakes.

Her noisy family members are another issue when she’s focusing on a project. She tries to avoid distractions of this kind with headphones and instrumental music but she actually prefers the silence of a library.

After considering her struggles, T3G suggested using work playlists to find focus and organise short breaks every hour to avoid those silly mistakes. We also stressed the importance of meditation, something that she was already familiar with.

When we talked again a few days later, she said that she had started to rush a little less. She confessed that watching a show helps her slow down while drawing. Now, she also takes breaks a little more often, for example, when she feels hungry. This has helped her to avoid mistakes and improve the quality of her work.

Q3:  What advice does she have for you?

We’ll keep this nice and short. These are D’s top 3 tips to find flow:

  1. ‘Plan things out and set deadlines for each task.’
  2. ‘Focus on one task at a time and try to avoid thinking about other things that are due.’
  3. ‘This is highly personal but maybe try and take breaks after each task is complete rather than take regular breaks.’

Finally, D recommends watching Thomas Frank’s YouTube videos for productivity and study tips. 

My takeaway:

Flow and productivity are very personal. Working for long stretches of time is easy when you are in a flow state. This is true for D., for example. Other people, however, may suffer from concentration loss and performance decline if they don’t take regular breaks. 

I believe that working without breaks works well if you’re focusing on one project per day. When possible, I also try to finish a task once I start it. After a break, it can be hard to find the same flow. Yet, when I’m planning to work for many hours, regular breaks do have their benefits in avoiding decision-making fatigue.

Other important aspects are your intrinsic motivation and the repetitiveness of the task. If you’re working on a topic you’re passionate about, by all means, work on. However, when you’re just inputting numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, take breaks to avoid costly mistakes. 

D also mentioned that she sometimes watches a TV series while drawing. This helps her slow down. While I can believe this may help the creative process, I wouldn’t recommend it for other activities like writing a report or preparing a sales pitch. 

This was the first interview-style Top Three Guide post. If you want to see more of her work, reach out and we’ll tell you how to find her on Instagram. (Not sharing here because of privacy).

I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment if you have a question about finding flow and improving your creative process.