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Achieve Flow by Hacking Your Tasks

Achieve Flow by Hacking Your Tasks
Hack Saw

You know what it feels like to be completely engaged in a task. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term flow to describe this state. Flow is crucial to performing any intellectual task. But how do you achieve it?

Hack Your Tasks

You won’t get flow with the carrot or the stick. External pressures are unlikely to really engage you with your task. If you want to get into a state of flow you should modify the tasks themselves. Making your tasks more engaging may seem to make them slightly less efficient, but the gain in your own efficiency through flow will be worth it.

Here are a couple ways to make your tasks more engaging:

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1) Add Challenge

Hitting flow is about reaching that sweet spot in challenge level between frustration and boredom. Great games know how to hit this spot to keep you engaged for hours. Why not do this with your work?

A great way to add more challenge to a boring task to increase your interest is to place a time-limit. Giving yourself less time to do a task may seem to sacrifice quality, but often it actually increases it. A time limit can force you to focus while doing your task so that you aren’t sloppy.

2) Add Variety

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Try doing your activity in a new way. See if there is a different method for solving the same problem and try that. Having routines can keep you productive, but if you are starting to procrastinate, try switching things up to make it more engaging.

Variety is a great way to spice up boring tasks. Cutting the grass, folding laundry, cleaning or doing simple paperwork don’t inspire a lot of abstract thought but need to get done. By forcing yourself to do them a different way you can re-engage your focus on the task.

When mopping I sometimes change the pattern for how I clean the floor. This rarely adds much time to the act of cleaning, but it can cut hours away from procrastination. Efficiency is less important than finishing and sometimes the energy you get from being engaged in the task speeds your progress.

3) Add Creativity

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Forcing out creativity is a good way to make boring tasks more engaging. I’ve written articles with different styles or constraints to make the process more fun. Adding extra constraints can take a boring task and make it an activity that truly gets you to think.

Extra constraints may seem to reduce the quality of your work, but just like more challenge and variety they can often increase the quality. With information work, creativity is the most valuable asset. Whether you are writing code, designing a logo or finishing an article, it isn’t the bits, pixels or words that make the difference, but the quality of the ideas behind them.

Creative constraints should work with your task rather than against it. If you were designing a new image in Photoshop, a constraint could be to only use certain tools when creating the image. This kind of artificial limitation doesn’t just engage you more with the task but it can create a unique style that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Suggestions for Task Hacking

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There are endless possibilities for how you can modify your tasks to make yourself more productive. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Chores – Try cutting the grass in a circular pattern.
  • Writing – Make all your subtitles for your article rhyme.
  • Programming – See if you can solve a problem in less than twenty lines of code.
  • Cooking – Try making a meal without any butter or oil.
  • Shopping – Make an estimate of your purchase total and try to be within 5$ of that amount when you check out.

Making tasks more difficult or more creative is counterintuitive. It seems like this process would make you less productive, not more. But considering how infrequently most people enter into a state of flow, there is plenty of space for improvement. Hacking your tasks turns them into a game you want to play.

Scott Young is a University student who writes about personal development, productivity and goal setting. Some of Scott’s popular articles include: Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying. You can get his free e-book on Holistic Learning here

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Last Updated on November 18, 2020

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

  1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
  2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
  3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
  4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
  5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
  6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
  7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
  8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
  9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
  10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
  11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
  12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
  13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
  14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
  15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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