It used to be called “the groove” or “the zone.”

Coming from a family full of gearheads and car enthusiasts we used the phrase “running on all eight cylinders.”

They all mean the same thing: That feeling that comes when you just can’t do any wrong. Hours pass in the blink of an eye while you’re working on something you’re deeply passionate about or interested in.

For me, running on all eight cylinders means there’s nothing that can stop me. The words (it’s usually when I’m writing) are flowing like water from a spring as the winter snowpack melts. It’s organic and meaningful. Whatever time I have is too short.

Recently I’ve encountered a number of sources that refer to it as “the flow” or simply “flow.” The key to productivity, to self-actualization, is finding flow. It is our optimal functional state. We’re more efficient and passionate, bringing all our attention and skills to bear on something important.

If you do even a small bit of searching or subscribe to entrepreneurial or productivity news sites for a short while you’ll encounter no end of tips and advice on how to get into the flow or maintain the flow while working. As with most tips and advice, there’s some good stuff in there, but your mileage may vary.

You Do You

If creating an environment of complete silence and tranquility works, great. I work better with Rush or Van Halen or Bob Dylan or Huey Lewis & The News playing at a wholly unhealthy volume.

If turning off the internet connection to minimize distractions works, great. Jumping over to Twitter every now and again actually helps take my mind off something I might be stuck on and free up new ideas.

If scheduled breaks where you turn away completely works, great. I prefer to just keep going and rest when the day is done and I’ve accomplished as much as possible.

You Might Not Know What Works

For years I didn’t know what the right combination of activities, stimuli and other factors was. When I felt it, I felt it. But I couldn’t put my finger on how to recreate it. Eventually it came together when I realized there was no magic formula.

Flow is art, not science in my experience. One day I’m running on all eight when I’ve got The Grateful Dead going and I’m working down a list of writing projects and topics. The next it’s when I’m listening to St. Vincent and organizing files on a hard drive.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. It doesn’t matter how you get there. What matters is that you feel it. Find your groove. Find your flow. Fire up all eight cylinders. Make it happen.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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