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Published on March 29, 2021

What Is A Flow State And How To Achieve It For Productivity

What Is A Flow State And How To Achieve It For Productivity

Do you struggle to get going and keep going? Perhaps with home chores, studying or work projects?

Don’t worry if you do, as it’s a common problem — especially with the array of distractions we all experience nowadays, such as TV, breaking news and social media.

As you’ve probably experienced, getting started is hard, but keeping going is often even harder.

Fortunately, there are some tried-and-tested techniques for moving yourself into a flow state.

What Is a Flow State?

Put simply, a flow state is a mental state in which you perform an activity while being fully immersed. You’ll know when you’re in a flow state as you’ll feel focused, energized and involved. And most importantly — you’ll enjoy what you’re doing!

Try now to think of something you really don’t like doing…

Perhaps creating reports at work or preparing your tax returns.

When you attempt to do something you don’t enjoy you’ll struggle to get started and struggle to get finished. In most cases, you’ll probably find countless reasons to procrastinate.

Now think of something you really enjoy doing…

Perhaps walking your dog or playing a musical instrument such as a guitar or a piano.

When you do something you love, you’ll find it almost effortless. You’ll also have no problem getting started and no problem continuing.

The difference is like night and day. Without a flow state, you’ll be like someone trying to walk through a muddy field — they’ll be slow and get constantly bogged down. With a flow state, you’ll be like an elite sportsperson who excels at their game but makes it look easy.

Research conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile revealed that people who successfully move into a flow state report higher levels of creativity and productivity for up to three days[1].

And the benefits of flow states don’t just stop at productivity; you can also expect to reduce your stress and boost your happiness.

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How To Get into a Flow State

I hope I’ve convinced you of the advantages of operating in a flow state, but I’m guessing this has probably left you wondering exactly how you can do this.

Well, there are a number of simple ways of getting into a flow state of mind, with these 6 being among the most popular:

1. Warm Up

Create a habit of warming up both physically and mentally before you get started on a task or project. This might involve meditation, yoga or a strenuous run in the park. The trick here is to make your chosen activity a ritual. Something that you always do before tackling your tasks.

Try it for yourself, and you’ll see just how much this helps you to get into a state of flow.

2. Do Something You Love

I touched on this above, but it’s definitely worth repeating:

If you do what you love to do, you’ll find it easy and enjoyable.

Of course, when it comes to doing something you’re not so keen on — perhaps cleaning your home — then you should look to see how you can make this enjoyable. For example, make your cleaning time pleasurable by listening to music that inspires and moves you.

3. Focus on One Task

Multitasking

might sound like the ideal way to get things done, but science shows otherwise.

For instance, a recent academic study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively[2]. For the other 97.5%, it was far more productive for them to focus on completing one task at a time. In other words, flow psychology strongly suggests you should say goodbye to multitasking and hello to focusing on one task at a time.

4. Avoid External Distractions

Although it might sound obvious, external distractions can prevent you from getting into a flow state or interrupt your flow state once you get into one.

Say for example you’re working in an open-plan office and you need to focus on creating a PowerPoint presentation. For the first 30 minutes, you have zero distractions and you find that you quickly get into a hyper-focused state where ideas come to you instantly. However, and unfortunately for you, a colleague interrupts you to ask you an unimportant question. Immediately your flow state is broken. Even though the interruption was only for a few seconds, it could take you minutes to get back into the flow.

Because of the risks of losing your flow state, if you’re working on a high-priority task or a creative one, then try to ensure that you’re not distracted by external circumstances.

5. Identify Your Peak Energy Times

Another technique to help you get into the flow is to work when your energy levels are at their peak. This can be as simple as knowing that you’re an early bird or a nighthawk.

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If early is your thing, then aim to do your priority tasks in the morning when you’ll have your most energy and drive.

If you’re a late sleeper, then you’ll likely find that your energy levels are at their highest in the afternoon or evening. Choose these times to tackle your important tasks.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out our helpful article: The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours)

6. Have Clear Goals

American philanthropist Tom Steyer said it well:

“Clarity of vision is the key to achieving your objectives.”

I’m sure you’ve noticed in your life that when you know exactly what you want — you’ll tend to find a way to get it. And conversely, if you lack clear goals and dreams, I’m sure you’ve found yourself drifting aimlessly in life.

Of course, goals don’t always have to be big ones.

For example, a daily work goal might be something as simple as ensuring that you always check your inbox once every couple of hours.

From my experience of coaching people in success techniques, once you start to build a habit of using goals, you won’t want to go back. That’s because goals are an incredibly powerful way of giving you an abundance of focus and motivation. Just think of when you’ve wanted that dream house or car. You did research; you sacrificed your time and money; and you kept yourself in a flow state until you achieved your goal.

Learn how to set clear goals in this guide: A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

How To Master a Flow State

Let’s turn now to some easy but seldomly used techniques that will enable you to become a master at entering and staying in a flow state.

1. Eliminate Internal Distractions

First on the list is eliminating internal distractions.

What are internal distractions?

Essentially, they are our thoughts and doubts that creep into our minds and stop us focusing on our tasks. These internal distractions can ultimately prevent us from achieving our goals.

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To give you an example of this, let me tell you about a time when I was struggling to focus.

It was when I first set up Lifehack, and I had so many ideas of how to progress the company that I found it hard to concentrate on the essential tasks such as writing content and promoting the website. My mind was literally so full of ideas that I found my thoughts drifting endlessly from one idea to another.

Now, while it’s certainly important to have ideas; it’s also important to be able to focus on the work in front of you.

I was able to break out of this mind trap by allocating 10 minutes each morning to thinking about my ideas and jotting them down. I then put them aside until the next day. This allowed me to be laser-focused on my writing and marketing.

By making this change, I was able to eliminate this particular internal distraction and massively boost my productivity.

2. Listen To Music While You Work

Another simple but super-effective technique for getting and staying in a flow state is to listen to music while you work.

Not just any music though.

The secret here is to find music that motivates you but does not distract you.

Typically, this would be instrumental music such as classical or ambient. The reason for this is because instrumental music is free from words, which means that your brain doesn’t have to spend anytime trying to interpret and understand them. It also means that you won’t interrupt your thoughts by trying to sing along with songs!

The other thing to consider with music for productivity, is to match the tempo to your work requirements. For example, if I need to power through some projects then I’ll choose some upbeat music that can perk me up and keep me going. However, if I want to be more creative and reflective, then I’ll pick music that is more relaxing. I may even just choose to listen to nature sounds if I want the minimum of distractions.

My recommendation is that you test out various music styles and tempos to see what works for you best. You’ll also want to play with the volume, as again, this can make a huge difference to your motivation and focus. You’ll probably find loud music more motivating than quieter music, but you need to find the right balance, as loud music can also be more distracting.

3. Stay Hydrated

My final suggestion to help you become a flow state master is to make sure you’re always hydrated.

Even mild dehydration can lead to a depressed mood, headaches and an inability to concentrate[3]. This is on top of physical effects such as fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness and heart palpitations.

Fortunately, keeping yourself hydrated is simple to do. Just ensure you’re drinking at least 2 liters of water throughout your day. Personally, I have a glass of water upon rising and a glass of water just before I go to bed. I also take a water bottle into work and when I exercise so I can keep myself hydrated at all times.

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Of course, drinking water is just one part of staying hydrated. You can also boost your hydration by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. You could make yourself a nutritious and hydrating green smoothie, for example.

Staying hydrated is such an important topic that I urge you to click through to read our article: Get Hydrated, Get Productive: How Water Helps Your Performance at Work

How Long Does Flow State Last?

While there is no hard and fast rule for how long it takes to get into a flow state, most people report a time of around 30 minutes. Some people will reach a flow state quicker than this — others will take longer. It really depends on the person and on the task at hand.

However, one essential of getting into a flow state is to make a start!

If you’re prone to procrastination you’ll be prone to being slow to get into a flow state.

The good news is — without distractions or interruptions — most people can stay in a flow state for several hours. Of course, you shouldn’t try to work constantly during this time. Instead, aim for a 10-minute break every 90 minutes. This will give your eyes and brain a much-needed rest without destroying your flow state[4].

Bottom Line

When you get into the habit of engaging and concentrating on your tasks, you’ll also get into the habit of working in a flow state.

This will supercharge your productivity as well as making your work and life easier and more enjoyable. In fact, you can expect to have more time on your hands for hobbies and spending time with family and friends.

As a flow state master, you’ll no longer be concerned about meeting deadlines, as you’ll be able to get your work done in time — and in most cases — ahead of time.

All that’s left is for me to remind you that reading about flow states is not enough. You must take action in your own life to implement the techniques I’ve outlined above.

It may take a little adjustment to the way you normally work, but it’ll definitely be worth it. Get started right now!

If you need any further help in getting motivated, then please reserve your FREE seat for our Lifehack Fast-Track Class: Focus Like A Top Achiever.

Featured photo credit: ConvertKit via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

How to Move Forward After Achieving Goal Success FIRED to HIRED with the Fortune Formula Why Having a Goals Strategy Can Help You Achieve More How to Be More Assertive and Go After Your Goals How to Achieve Goals and Increase Your Chance of Success

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Published on May 3, 2021

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

“Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

More About Decision Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
[2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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