Want to Be More Productive? According to Neuroscience, You Should Prioritize Having Fun There’s a reason why you feel more productive after a fun weekend.
It’s no secret that your habits outside of work affect your performance at your job. Eating well, getting good sleep, and exercising regularly will serve you in anything you do.
What most people don’t consider, however, is the impact their favorite hobbies can have on their performance at work.
And it’s not just because you come back after a weekend of fun feeling refreshed – there are physiological benefits to spending time on activities that “suck you in,” so to speak, which will carry over to nearly everything else you do in your life.
It all comes down to flow, the highly-productive state that efficient people seek out relentlessly.
Flow is a meta skill
For the uninitiated, a flow state is an optimal state of consciousness where you feel and perform your best. It’s that feeling when you’re so absorbed in an activity that time ceases to exist, and before you know it, hours have flown by and you’ve made tons of progress.
I’m a big fan of flow states. I believe one of the highest leverage points in most businesses is cutting down on distractions and minutiae so people can spend more time in flow states, focusing on work that matters.
It’s one reason why I’m a fan of Steven Kotler, the bestselling author and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. He’s spent nearly his entire life analyzing flow and developing methods to spend more time in it.
I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on flow, but after diving into Kotler’s most recent book, Gnar Country, I had an epiphany that I think many entrepreneurs could benefit from.
See, according to Kotler, flow is not just a phenomenon that happens randomly. It’s a meta skill – a higher-order skill that enables us to better learn other skills and improve our existing ones. And just like any skill, the more time you spend doing it the better you’ll get at it.
At first glance, Gnar Country looks more like a ski memoir than a performance book. But that’s because Kotler loves skiing. Skiing allows him to enter into a flow state like nothing else can. And over time, he realized that the more time he spent skiing, the more productive he became in other areas of his life.
It might sound ridiculous, but it’s a very real phenomenon. The more time you spend in flow, the better you get at achieving flow states in all aspects of your life. That, coupled with the other physiological benefits it provides, means that spending time on our hobbies could be a lot more productive than we think.
Primary flow activities
Flow states happen in all aspects of our lives. You might get into a flow state while cleaning your house or reading a book, for example.
But everyone has one or a few activities that really suck them in. Kotler calls these “primary flow activities,” or the things you’ve done most in your life that are most likely to get you into flow. These can often take the form of hobbies or pastimes. For Kotler, it’s skiing. For me, it’s chess.
Your primary flow activity is powerful because it’s an opportunity for you to hone your skill of getting into flow. Put simply, the more time I spend playing chess, the more time I spend in flow, and the better I’ll get at achieving flow states while working in my business. There are also many physiological benefits to flow states that can improve your health and focus.
Getting into flow acts as a sort of “reset” for your nervous and immune system. Two of the phenomenological characteristics of flow are mastery and control, which are among the most potent positive emotions one can experience.
The neuro-immunological health benefits of these emotions arise from the close relationship between the nervous and immune systems, leading to an increase in the production of T cells and natural killer cells, which fight off disease and target tumors and other sick cells.
Finding your flow
The moral of the story is that prioritizing time spent in your primary flow activity is an inventive (and typically fun) way to live a healthier, more productive life.
If you’re not sure what your primary flow activity is, Kotler recommends looking back at your childhood. Research shows that children are actually better at getting into flow states than adults, and that your ability to achieve flow states diminishes over time.
If you think back to your childhood, you can probably remember engrossing yourself in all sorts of activities that nowadays you’d find boring. But often there is one activity that stands out from the rest. Something you absolutely loved and would still love to do if only you had the time. Chances are, that is your primary flow activity.
As busy entrepreneurs, many of us focus on our business above all else. We forget about our hobbies because they’re “not important.” But the science is real. Prioritizing non-work-related activities that get you into flow is not only fun, but it could also be one of the best business moves you can make.
This article was originally published in the original United States edition of Inc. or on inc.com