What playing video games taught me about flow state and productivity

Wise Gamer

POV: It’s a ranked match, and you are playing with a couple of other players on Master. Your K/D ratio is on the line, your pride is on the line, and your rating is on the line. You do everything possible to avoid being killed — jumping, crouching, and sliding, all without thinking much about it.

Once the enemy appears, you blast him with a couple of shots with precision. After reaching 5 killstreaks, can you get it to ten? The scorestreak bar shows that you’re on the verge of unlocking the first one.

You are sitting in a very comfortable position, your hand is positioned for maximum efficiency, and if you are like me, you have wired earphones on, full sound and bright lighting, and you have the phone set to DND.

When you get a call, you are probably going to ignore it or not even hear it at all. While maintaining your scorestreaks, you’ll ignore hunger and thirst, and won’t even want to talk to anyone. Time flies, assignments pile up, but you don’t care — your ratings are more important!

After the game, you made a fist bump to celebrate being the MVP and hailed yourself on being the MVP, saying, “I’m good! I’m good!” Only to realize it has been more than two hours you have spent gaming.

This is me playing COD, and I’ve seen how replicating that scenario in my work can boost productivity.

And if you still live with your parents, you probably wouldn’t want to game at the wrong time.

COD Scorestreak

*I’m sorry if you can’t relate to this experience, but you get the point, right?

In the real world

Get comfortable

As in most tips for getting productive and in flow, it’s about the time, environment, and position.
You probably won’t be able to get into flow state in a noisy, crowded environment unless you are already a productivity god (show me your ways if you do), nor will you like to be in an uncomfortable position while working on that. (*This may be incorrect, as I am sometimes deeply engaged in coding while heavily in an uncomfortable posture for some people.)

And if people are around to disturb you inevitably, well, plug in your earphones on the loudest volume listening to the weirdest sound you possibly can, even if it is the Shepard tone.

Sun’s up, the stomach’s filled, the mind is calm, and no one’s there to disturb you — the perfect time to start work!

Get everything ready

You get all your tools ready. No need to stand up in-game to get your earpiece nor get your water to keep you hydrated.

While working, a simple break to get your USB cable could break up your flow (or not). But you get the point.

No breaks until the match is completed. No breaks until the task is completed.

The world on DND

Put all your devices on DND. If you also hate notifications like me, it’s probably already on. On your laptop, alarms only; on your mobile device, if you’ll need it to work, full DND! No room for external distraction. The task is the focus!

Zen mode!

You get to work! No need to look back. Don’t even care what the time is! Just get to work!

You focus on the task ahead. The number of cards moved or tasks checked is your streak meter. You don’t stop until you have completed the milestone. Take breaks only when necessary.

Don’t check how your tweet is doing. Don’t even bother to check if Luna has eventually moon. Your crush texted, never mind! Take every task head-on without caring how challenging it might be.

* Bonus tip: Use the Pomodoro technique to become even more productive in your time allocation

Gamers don’t multitask

Like I said earlier, gamers don’t multitask. But sometimes, a podcast is just enough to be a company while working. Talking while working? Probably not recommended. Chatting? Nah. Checking high-quality memes on Reddit? Nah. Just get the job done quickly!

I’m busy, for God’s sake!

If someone comes up to you, be as hostile as you possibly can while being very nice about it (not good advice?). Take off your headphones and put them on again more than five times while staring at your screen to indicate you are busy, for God’s sake!

Congratulate yourself

When all battles have been fought, and all tasks have been completed, congratulate yourself for a job well done, “God I’m good!”.

Take a break. Check memes— it’s good for the mind and soul.

Relax, it’s just a game (or not 😡)

But remember one thing, be calm and relaxed. Don’t jam the keyboard to code at 100wpm nor create 10 screens in 10 minutes. A calm and focused mind is very important.

Practice makes perfect

Consistent practice not only makes the tasks easier but also helps you achieve more with less effort.

Working with a consistent schedule helps you fall into flow more naturally.

Have a specific time to work and time to play. It helps, really.

I hope you enjoy the read. Once again, I’m sorry if you aren’t a gamer, but try to get the key insights.

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Ahmed Arigbabu

Developer and user experience designer with a keen interest in cognitive and behavioral sciences, philosophy, and how things work. https://www.wonu.design