I’m sure you’ve had days when you felt super productive and unstoppable. You were completely in the moment and everything was going your way.

Right there and then you were experiencing the magical Flow State.

We sometimes feel this way when we’re doing something that is both important and challenging to us and a good match for our skills.

Flow is the combination of being completely in the present moment and being focused and engaged on one challenging task.

The benefits of being in Flow state

The main benefits of the Flow state is that your work becomes enjoyable and you are completely present.

You get so much done and you feel energized all the time, it’s like your brain is fully activated. In fact if you can sustain that state you can go on for hours on end without breaking a sweat.

The Flow state is also what athletes call being In The Zone.

This is the reason many athletes and artists have specific routines they cultivate over their careers that allow them to get In The Zone consistently.

We can do the same for our productivity. Let’s go!

Why is Flow difficult to reach

Flow is difficult to reach because we leave it to chance.

We must deliberately prepare ourselves and our environment to maximize the chances of achieving Flow.

At first we will have to control our environment, distractions, prime our body and brain and carefully plan the tasks to get done.

Later on this will turn into a routine that we naturally follow and can slip into Flow (almost) every day.

How to get into Flow consistently

Prime your body and mind

Preparing your body and mind for an awesome day starts the night before. Drinking alcohol, too much caffeine or too much food late at night will ruin your sleep and you will wake up with half your energy, regardless of how many hours you sleep.

We all have ranges in which we sleep, usually it’s 6 to 8 hours. If we take care of our evenings we will naturally sleep less and wake up more rested.

Control your environment

This comes down to eliminating distractions, our brains need prolonged periods of uninterrupted time to accomplish challenging and creative work.

Of course the easiest way to achieve this is to wake up before everyone else and work while everyone is asleep.

If you work in an office, go there early and try to start before everyone else is there. Then it becomes much easier to keep your momentum going throughout the day even with all the inevitable distractions.

When you hit a plateau, push through it

Flow doesn’t happen in the first minute or hour. It happens after your brain is warmed up and firing on all cylinders. The time is different for everyone and depends on many factors, but I’ve noticed that almost every time I get into Flow it was after I pushed through a plateau.

After 1 or 2 hours into my workday I will hit a roadblock, something won’t be working, there will be a bug in my code etc.

At this point one of my instincts is to take a longer break, watch a youtube video, scroll instagram or read twitter. But on the days when I push through and finish my task, that is when I reach the Flow state almost every time.

Also if you keep pushing through plateaus you will start getting more and more done every day, Flow state or not.

Strike a balance between challenging tasks and your skills

Of course we can’t always choose what we have to get done, so here are some ways to make too challenging tasks more manageable and easy ones less boring.

If task is too challenging

Challenging tasks come in many forms.

  • The scope is very big, there’s a lot to do – split the task into smaller subtasks and start with one of those.
  • There are many unknowns and you don’t know where to start – Split the task into the known and unknown parts then start with what you can do.
  • Too difficult for your skills – If this is in a work environment, ask someone more experienced for advice, that’s the fastest way.
    If you’re working for yourself, then it’s time to level up your skills. I also recommend splitting the task into subtasks you know how to do and the ones you don’t, then start with the former. It is much more encouraging to have 2 out of 5 subtasks completed instead of 0 out of 1.

If task is too easy

If task is too easy you’ll get bored and procrastinate again. So here you need to make it a bit more challenging and also remind yourself of the big picture.

Put this boring task in the context of the bigger picture and see how it will help you make progress overall.

Then to make the task more challenging set a time limit, around 25 minutes, and push yourself in that short period to accomplish as much as possible, then get it over with.

The most common pitfalls

The most common pitfalls come down to not being able to concentrate for long enough or concentrating too much on the wrong things and getting tired for the important ones.

Inability to stay Focused long enough

The classic case of ADHD where 99% of people can’t stay focused for longer than 5 minutes on a single task. This has mostly to do with your environment and your body, it’s nothing mental most of the time.

So start taking care of your environment, eliminate distractions, lower the caffeine, lower the social media and give dopamine fasting or another body reset.

But once you have all of that down, you can start by working in small focus sessions of 25 minutes followed by 5-10 minute break. After a while your brain will get used to staying focused and you can expand your sessions.

Spending too much time on the wrong tasks

A lot of times we can get caught up into emails and reports and choosing some pictures for articles and we waste our time. Imagine having to write an article and instead of writing it you spend 30 minutes choosing a cover photo.

Again, to guard yourself against spending unlimited time on silly things, set a timer, of course I use Focus Hub for flexible work cycles.

How to take breaks without losing your Flow

Of course you need to take a break sometimes, you could get stiff from sitting or thirsty, whatever.

If you want to keep your Flow going you must limit the social media scrolling, youtube videos, podcasts, audiobooks, no no no. Only low resolution inputs allowed like talking to your coworkers or taking a walk around the office. If you’re working from home there are much better things to do on your break that will refresh both your body and mind.

Sharpen the saw regularly

We mentioned at the beginning that Flow happens when you match your skills with a challenging task.

In order to get better in whatever is your profession, you must make time to improve your skills. However don’t just watch courses and tutorials. Start applying the skills you’re trying to master as soon as possible, that is the fastest way to progress.

If you’re a programmer, start a personal project. If you’re a writer, start writing a book.

Doesn’t matter if you still suck, you don’t have to show it to anyone else.

Over time these side projects will get better and better and will become invaluable experience and they will stand out in your resume as pillars of self-initiative and a get-after-it attitude.

In fact, side projects are the best way to fast-track your career. You can actually manufacture experience with certain technologies and you can use that to pivot your career in any way you like.

Until next time,

Stay Productive