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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
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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

Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques

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Last Updated on July 27, 2021

Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better

Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better
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What comes to mind when you think of learning how to focus better? Do you think of the attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? Do you consider the amount of willpower needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Do you think it requires sitting in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a given period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus, and you’re either doing something else or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

With an ever-increasing amount of information—that is easily accessible online and offline—we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

That’s why many of us end up having problems concentrating or focusing in life—whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

Learning how to focus better doesn’t have to be too complex. Here is some information to help you get started.

Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes far beyond that.

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The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

And why do we want to do that? Because we want to spend time becoming a better version of ourselves!

At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. With that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

Let me give you an example:

Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project.

Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. She rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a year-end bonus.

That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. Looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

Focus Is a Flow

This is what focus is and how where learning how to focus better starts. It’s not a one-off, task-by-task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow[1].

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Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.

So, why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go—in that we don’t have a clear goal—or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.

Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up using a lot of gas and driving for hours without knowing if you’re getting anywhere.

Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office, and your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location.

Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers, or movers to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. However, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

The Focus Flow

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.

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Let me show you how theFocus Flow works.

  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Clear Objective

To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Drawing a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

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Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.

Need a little help in drawing this Focus Roadmap? The Full Life Planner can help you. It’s a practical planner to help you stay focused and on track with your most important goals and tasks in an organized way. Get yours today!

Power Up Your Productivity

I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively, not because you’re able to concentrate, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or lose focus on your tasks at hand.

You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a roadmap. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

However, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

Once you’ve made your roadmap and found your focus, follow it up with unbreakable determination with Lifehack’s Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook.

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More on Overcoming Distractions

Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Very Well Mind: The Psychology of Flow

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