A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

How Can You Have That Perfect "Flow State" More Often?

I am sure you have had those perfect, amazing moments where everything just seems to work. Often called “flow states” or “peak experiences”, we produce some of our most amazing work during those times, and experience a breadth and depth of humanity that is not often seen. This is my journey from being burned out and exhausted to finding a workable way to get to a flow state on a daily basis.

I started and ran a web hosting company from 2001-2007 because I thought it would be an excellent way to provide me with some passive income. Web hosting companies are great because if you run them correctly, the revenue for the company goes up every month, since the vast majority of your current customers stay with you and you add new customers.

Unfortunately, it turned out to not be the “passive” sort of income I expected. I was working 12, 14, or 16-hour days when I was running Simpli (my web hosting company), for years at a time. I would wake up at least once a week in the middle of the night by an urgent text message from a customer with an issue. I would often be mostly incoherent throughout the day due to working the entire night before. My sleep schedule was not set in stone and often I would have a pattern of sleep, work, oh, right, I have to eat, work, work, work, sleep, work. I did not exercise and sometimes I would curl up in a ball on my bed and just break down and cry.

In August 2006, during a vacation, I had another breakdown and decided I had to sell the business. It took over a year to get to the point where I felt confident I could sell it. Finally, in September 2007, I sold out to a competitor.

Was My Burned-Out Existence “Worth It”?

To this day, I look back and wonder whether it was worth it. The company provided me with a fairly substantial windfall, but was it worth six years of my life? My exhausted employees’ faces still haunt me. I think a big reason they worked as hard as they did was because I was right there beside them, exhausted but confident that this would all go…somewhere.

When I sold the business, I vowed that my life would be different. Never again would I run a business that stole my life, burned out my employees, and left me exhausted to the point where I couldn’t even see straight on multiple occasions.

I started reading books and taking personal development workshops to discover better experiences I could bring into my life. I knew from deep conversations and meditations that what really lit a fire inside me — and a large part of what made Simpli so successful — was my natural inclination to help other people. Helping other people was what made me thrive.

If you have been reading this blog for a few months, you have seen me go through a transition in how I want to help other people. As I redefined who I was, my goals became bigger and more ambitious. I went from wanting to start a membership site to setting up a personal finance conference. In the process, I realized that I needed to define a purpose for my life.

After much meditation and thought, I decided my purpose would be to “cultivate peak experiences”.

Peak Experiences and Drudge Experiences

There is, I believe, a spectrum for experiences in our life. On one extreme of the spectrum, there are “peak experiences” — ultimate personal and global awareness states where we want nothing more than to experience the ecstasy of the moment. They are related to the state of “flow” that we experience when everything is aligned and we are doing something we love. They are exhilarating, breathtaking, and — if you are anything like me — all too infrequent in our lives.

You know you are having a peak experience when you are truly living exactly in the present moment, without worrying about your past or your future. You are “zoned in”, focused, and your mind is clear. You know which objectives you must achieve in order to move your life forward, yet you are completely at peace with where you are now.

On the other end, sometimes we experience the opposite of peak flow moments, which for this article I will call “drudge experiences” or “drudge work.” That’s the work we hate doing — the chores that we endure only because we have to.

In order to slowly transition my life toward being more “in the flow” more of the time, I knew I needed to eliminate and/or outsource the drudge work — all that stuff I did not want to do and that dragged me down emotionally.

Eliminating or outsourcing that work, though, also meant I had to replace it with something I truly enjoyed — thus pushing more of my daily experiences toward the “peak” end of the spectrum.

Making Your Daily Life Contain More Peak Experiences

Here is the step-by-step plan I went through to ensure that my life would contain more peak experiences:

First, I had to determine which experiences I disliked most. I went through one day and wrote down every single thing that I did during the day on a timeline. That means my paper was filled with entries like “Phone call to X” and “Read 10 pages of book Z” and “Checked email.” I wrote my tasks down, on average, every 15 minutes throughout the day.

At the end of the day, I went back through the list and decided what I didn’t like to do most. I also walked around my house and jotted down everything that emotionally bothered me on some level, such as the dirty dishes in the sink and the ever-growing laundry pile. That physical clutter had become emotional clutter that made me sigh with exasperation and get frustrated with myself. This clutter was weighing on my ability to have peak experiences.

Second, I got really clear on what I needed to do to eliminate the drudge work and clutter. I decided to hire a personal assistant for 6-8 hours a week. I knew I would find her on craigslist. I decided to pay $15-$16/hour. And, I made the determination that every week, I would find at least 8 hours of work a week for her — since I did not want to end up being in a position where I could fall back and say “I will just do this myself”.

What about the peak experiences? You may think that hiring someone to do the “dirty work” would lead me to sit around lounging outdoors with a cool drink. On the contrary — lounging is not a peak experience for me. I don’t get a flow state from lounging. Peak experiences for me include writing and blogging, as well as WealthCamp — the personal finance conference I am setting up. I also know that writing, as well as setting up the conference, will enable me to help many more people than doing my own laundry will.

How Does Being Frugal Tie In?

You may say, “But what about saving money?” I am fairly frugal, and parting with a bit over $500 a month was indeed a hard pill to swallow. The question I finally asked myself was: Erica, which would you rather do — save money or save the world? Hiring a personal assistant is not frivolous. It directly enables me to do more with my life, and empowers me to create a future where I have more free time to experience peak flow states. It also has an excellent effect of easily removing the clutter from my house — and thus from my mind.

Hiring a personal assistant should be looked at as an investment. You are investing in yourself. You are giving yourself more time to do the things you love.

That investment, however, has a catch: In my opinion, to get maximum worth out of hiring someone else to do the “drudge work”, you must redouble your efforts to create those experiences that will get you closer to your life goals. I experience peak states of flow when writing and speaking, so my goals are focused around making sure more of those opportunities arise for me. As well, I greatly enjoy helping others — almost as much as I dread doing drudge work for myself!

Your Next Steps

Here are some questions to ask yourself so that you can take a few steps forward toward achieving more peak experiences:

  1. Whatever your peak experiences are, how can you rearrange your life to make room for more of them to occur?
  2. How will you use your newfound free time to its maximum benefit — to not just make up the income you will spend on an assistant, but to really effect great change in the world? Would you write, sing, play, travel…?

Whatever you would do, given more free time, envision yourself doing that every day…and then find a way to free up more time to make that dream happen. Should you hire a personal assistant? A new employee? A housekeeper? Whatever you choose, make the mental commitment to hire that person in order to give yourself a chance to be in the peak flow state — the height of creativity — more often.

I encourage you to lay out your thoughts in the comments below. As always, I will respond to all of them.

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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