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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

What Is Positive Thinking and How to Always Think Positive Do You Know Your Motivation Style? A Stress-Free Way To Prioritizing Tasks And Ending Busyness How To Apply the Stages Of Learning (With Free Worksheet) What Is A Flow State And How To Achieve It For Productivity

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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

6. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

8. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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9. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

10. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Who Else Wants More Success?

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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