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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How the Flow State Helps You Stay Productive and Concentrate

How the Flow State Helps You Stay Productive and Concentrate

Imagine being totally immersed in an optimal state of consciousness, giving your fullest attention to an activity or task through improved focus and concentration, and heightening all aspects of your performance in the process. Your mind declutters and the noise of your environment fades away, placing you in a non-distracted zone known as the “flow state,” which creates a sense of uninterrupted fluidity between mind and body.

For those who struggle to concentrate or stay focused, this sounds like heaven.

The flow state is also known simply as “flow,” or colloquially in sports as “in the zone” or “on a roll.” Surprisingly, you don’t necessarily have to be LeBron James, a super yogi, or a psychology guru to achieve it.

Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, or just a regular person engaged in a simple day-to-day task, with the right know-how, the flow state can be achieved, making it easy to lose track of time and be fully engaged. It may not quite be heaven, but it’s close enough for the easily distracted.

For many of us, focus and concentration have fallen prey to an onslaught of distractions and stimulation, some of which are deliberately engineered to capture our attention. This leaves us with little to no uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate, causing us to feel overwhelmed and helpless.

However, learning how to improve our focus and concentration by getting into the flow could be a silver bullet for the unrelenting distractions.

Characteristics of the Flow State

According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi[1], who recognized and named “flow,” the concept has eight main characteristics:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. A feeling of control over the task
  3. Effortlessness and ease
  4. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  5. A balance between challenges and skills
  6. The experience is intrinsically motivating and rewarding
  7. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
  8. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination

As a result of its positive characteristics, flow psychology has several benefits.

Research conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile revealed that people who have the experience of flow report higher levels of productivity and creativity for up to three days[2]. However, these are just two of the many benefits.

The Benefits of Flow Immersion

The benefits of flow are multitudinous. Here is a sampling of how it can benefit you:

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Improve Concentration

The ability to focus deeply minus distractions leads to higher output and quality work. When in a flow state, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else seems to fall away.

When in flow, your body and mind are in unison and know what to do without having to consciously think about it.

Eliminate Distractions

While in flow, the distracting emotions that usually cloud our minds, such as stress, worry, self-doubt, and lack of confidence, take a back seat.

Improve the Ability to Cope

Emotion regulation, a crucial skill when coping with negative emotions and memories, is directly connected to focus, one of the prerequisites of flow.

Flow directs our focus outward on the task at hand, instead of inward on our worries, fears, and frustrations.

If you know how to tune out negative distractions and focus on solving problems, you’ll get better at handling and moving on from major setbacks.

Create Happiness

Flow is said to be one of the most productive and happiest states that humans can be in.

Being fully immersed in a challenging task and feeling at one with it brings a general sense of well-being and a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Engage in a Positive Experience

The pleasure that comes with being deeply engrossed in something of significant interest or passion is said to result in an intrinsically positive experience.

Enhance Learning

Because it releases dopamine, flow enhances learning. Dopamine goes beyond providing a temporary high. It also heightens attention and decreases distractions, helping to raise our awareness.

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Heighten Performance

One study[3] found that top executives who practice getting into the flow report being five times more productive.

Another study done by Harvard Business school reveals that creative teams are more creative and productive even a day after being in the flow.

According to scientists, the flow of our brain waves shifts from the beta waves of concentration to the alpha waves of rest and relaxation and the theta waves that occur during meditation. Theta waves are said to be prerequisites for moments of insight and the gateway to creative genius.

Improve Productivity in the Workplace

Due to its powerful influence, flow can be a major source of inspiration for employees to perform at their peak.

According to scientific research, the average employee switches tasks every three minutes. Due to the resulting “attention residue,” whenever an employee gets distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain full attention on the task at hand[4].

Consistently entering a flow state can facilitate employees to increase focus, which will lead to higher productivity and better work. This is music to the ears of not only employers but employees as well as it can ultimately lead to significant advancement in a career.

However, knowing how to improve focus and concentration using flow takes some effort. It is a delicate process that you won’t master by simply reading about it. However, if you do need a little guidance on how to improve your focus before jumping into a flow state, check out Lifehack’s Fast-Track Class: Focus Like a Top Achiever.

Now, here is a breakdown on how to improve focus and concentration by getting into a flow state of mind.

How to Improve Focus and Concentration by Getting Into a Flow State

Getting into a state of flow sounds great in theory, but mastering the skill of repeated immersion in flow is not easy.

You won’t achieve a state of flow in every attempt, but you can prime your environment and yourself for flow so that you experience it more often.

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1. Have Clear Goals, Outcomes, and Expectations

Your mind will struggle to achieve optimum concentration and focus if you lack clarity about what you want to accomplish.

If there’s no clear outcome, you won’t know exactly when you’re finished with your task. This will breed mind-wandering and procrastination and encourage quitting and switching to easier tasks.

2. Work on One Very Specific Task

Just like the goal, if you lack clarity on exactly what you are going to work on, it will be very difficult to enter a state of flow. You will either switch between multiple tasks too quickly or get distracted much more easily – both are serious detriments to achieving flow.

Multitasking creates a web of distractions that can make it impossible to achieve a flow state, so try to focus on one important task at a time.

3. Eliminate All Distractions and Avoid Interruptions

Research says external distractions must be eliminated to reach a flow state.[5]

Each time you get pulled away from your focus, you’ll be taken further away from flow.

It’s vital that you devote all of your concentration and undivided attention to the task at hand. You can only get into flow when you’re able to keep your focus and concentration for at least 10-15 minutes.

External Distractions

Turn off your phone, television, and other devices in your work environment that might distract you from the task at hand.

Try to set aside a time and move to a quiet environment that is conducive to “deep work,” where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Internal Distractions

You’ll also need to eliminate internal distractions. Stress and an overwhelmed mind will make it very hard or even impossible to get into a flow state.

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Eliminating all or most distractions will protect you from being disrupted and allows you to enter a state of deep focus and concentration, which is one of the most important elements of flow.

4. Do Something You Love

The easiest way to get into flow is to do something you love that is intrinsically rewarding. It will satisfy your mind’s craving for something challenging but doable.

5. Identify Your Peak Productive and Creative Times

Identify the times where your mind most naturally functions at peak performance. For many people, the morning after a good night’s sleep is the most productive. Focusing on the day’s main task during these times will make flow easier and more effective.

6. Create a Ritual

Try to create a series of actions that you do every single time you’re about to begin a task that requires you to enter a state of concentration.

This could be anything that helps, such as meditation or stretching. Whatever the activity, it will trigger your brain to get ready for what’s about to begin.

7. Focus on the Process, Not the End Goal

While having goals and a specific task are crucial, getting into the flow also requires enjoying the journey and not just fixating on the outcome.

Try to allow yourself to simply live in the present moment without worrying too much about the end product of your efforts. This will allow the experience to be pleasurable, which will encourage you to do it more often.

Final Thoughts

Getting into the flow is a powerful practice that can pave a pathway to achievement and personal improvement. Mastering it is also a great way to learn how to improve focus and concentration, which is essential to achieving goals in life.

However, like every skill, it’s going to take intent and practice to master. We hope these tips will help you to go with the flow and develop the laser-like focus that will improve your performance on the job or in your daily life.

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: Avi Richards via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on July 12, 2021

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Conventional wisdom centers around giving more of yourself to others in your life than you would to what you want to accomplish. You’re taught to make sacrifices and put your needs secondary because that’s how you’ll become a better person. However, not making yourself a priority is keeping you from accomplishing your goals and getting more done.

Let me know if this sounds familiar. You work hard all day to accomplish your goals. During your moments of focus, there are requests from others and demands from outside distractions on your time. You start each day with a to-do list of items that you want to accomplish. By the time you come to the end of your day, you haven’t completed what you wanted. If you were to analyze your time, you would see that the reason is you’re constantly being distracted.

There’s a significant difference between being selfish and being self-centered. I won’t give you the analogy that you hear every time you get on an airplane, but if you’re going to accomplish your goals, you have to stop drowning—in a figurative sense.

The reality is that you’re giving more of yourself to others than you are giving to your goals and vision of the future. By not making yourself a priority, your goals have become secondary.

Here are six important reasons why everyone should understand the importance of self-prioritization. The key to getting more done starts with taking care of yourself first and foremost.

1. You Create the Bandwidth You’ll Need to Focus on Your Goals When You Make Yourself a Priority

It takes a lot of yourself to consistently put in the work that helps you get more done and accomplish your goals. You need energy, bandwidth, and mental clarity to wake up every day and work hard.

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By making yourself a priority, it allows you to see the path to accomplishment. Too many people aren’t accomplishing their goals because their goals get lost in the busyness of taking care of others. It becomes a negative habit and a complacent way to live life.

Life rarely works out as expected, and as you’re working on your goals, you’re going to experience unexpected setbacks. You need bandwidth and mental strength to withstand those frustrating moments and still maintain the motivation to accomplish your goals.

The vital part of accomplishment is that you are working on your goals.

When you are working on what you want to accomplish to make yourself better, you can stay focused on what it will take to get there. You learn to say no to anything that will derail your path, and this creates more space and time to work on what you need to. Create the proper bandwidth through self-prioritizing.

2. Focused Energy Leads to More Production

Disorganization affects productivity. When it feels like you’re being pulled in many different directions, you can’t focus and create the energy needed for consistent production. A scattered mind leads to half-accomplished goals.

We know that in goal-setting, we need a plan. This plan has to be centered around what you want to accomplish. Self-prioritization allows you to create a plan that’s focused on the specific actions and steps it will take to achieve your goals.

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As you take action in an organized way, this leads to more production because your focus and energy are around the goals you know will help you be better and accomplish more. You simply get more done when you have the energy to do so.

3. Prioritizing Yourself Builds Clarity on What Boundaries You Should Set and Keep

Deep inside, you know when you should be saying no instead of saying yes. When you agree to anything that could derail your focus, it eats away at you inside. Prioritizing yourself and your goals helps you set boundaries and keep them because of the intense focus.

There will always be attempts and requests for your time and attention. As you start to build up yourself and accomplish more, others will notice. This will bring demand for your energy and your focus. If you give in to these requests, you won’t have the necessary bandwidth needed to work on your goals consistently.

Setting boundaries is an integral part of goal setting and living a healthy life. You have to be firm about what you allow and what you will not tolerate in your life. Human nature tends to lean towards people-pleasing—when you focus on pleasing others, you don’t please yourself.

Prioritize your goals and the things that you want to accomplish in your life. That’s the operative thing to understand—this is your life, and the focus has to be on what you want to achieve in that life. Use self-prioritization to clarify what boundaries need to be set and make sure you hold these boundaries firmly.

4. Sustainable Productivity happens With excitement for What You’re Working On

There are many reasons why people don’t accomplish their goals, but one that is not often thought about is a lack of excitement. When you spend the whole time working on things that drain you, your productivity diminishes with every second.

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Letting outside circumstances dictate your goals leads to a lack of excitement. By not focusing on making yourself a priority, you’re not creating an environment in which you are thrilled to be working on your goals. It will take a lot of hard work over a sustained period of time to accomplish your significant goals and be productive. It’s going to require energy and bandwidth to overcome the setbacks and stay focused.

Prioritizing yourself allows you to set challenging goals, but the outcome is exciting. If you look at what you’re working on and it’s not exciting, you won’t have sustainability. A lack of motivation will drain your productivity.

You’re a human being, not a machine. There will be things in your life that are not an exciting part of this process, but there has to be a balance between work and play. Work-life balance happens when the life part has an equal priority. Prioritizing what you want creates that balance and amplifies productivity.

5. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Freeing to Let Go of Outside Expectations

We are programmed to take on the baggage of outside circumstances. We’re taught that to be a good human being, we should take on what others are going through. By prioritizing yourself, you’ll come to understand that you are responsible for your life, and that involves your mental well-being.

Prioritizing yourself helps you see that you have to let go of the expectations of others. This is your life, and you have to live in the best way that you see fit. It’s important for you to spend the precious moments you have on this earth working on your goals and the things that help you live a better life.

When you let go of outside expectations of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, it frees up bandwidth and creates mental clarity to be productive. No longer are you walking around with the burden of what others expect from you, it’s time to spend your time the way you’d like to.

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Other people’s expectations of your life don’t have to be part of your plan. It’s your responsibility to set the goals that help you live a free life and spend your time exactly how you’d like to spend it. Make yourself a priority by letting go and focusing on yourself first and foremost.

6. Optimizing Yourself Builds Every Area of Your Life

You’re probably working on your goals because you want to become the best version of yourself and create a life that brings more time freedom. The path to higher income, better relationships, more travel, and all the other things you want to accomplish happen through self-optimization and productive life.

When you can optimize yourself, it helps you be better in every other area of your life. The key to optimizing yourself starts by prioritizing yourself in more than just words. When you take action from a place of “you-first,” you’ll have the energy and capacity needed to push harder for longer.

Make yourself a priority by focusing on optimizing yourself and all the things you want to accomplish. Everything inside you might be screaming to help others first, but you can’t give what you don’t have. The best place to share is from a place of abundance, and that comes from optimizing yourself.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to take better care of yourself. It’s time to treat yourself as the most significant goal because that should always be the case. What you’d like to accomplish and your path to get there have to be a priority before you think about others.

The demands and energy of others can derail you if you let it. Self-prioritization means that you decide where your boundaries will be set and not allow others to violate them. You’ve probably spent a lot of your time up to this point focused on other people and outside circumstances. It’s time to take a dedicated period of time to put yourself first. You deserve a productive life.

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Debunk the programming that there’s something wrong with putting yourself first and making your goals the primary priority. You can always help others and be there for those who need you while making yourself a priority. It’s not an either-or situation—it’s a situation in which you can help strategically.

More Tips on How to Make Yourself a Priority

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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