Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time and are unaware of your immediate surroundings? If so, you were likely in the flow state.
The flow state is a state of mind in which you’re at your most productive. In the flow state, you’re working hard, enjoying yourself, and not paying much, if any, attention to what’s going on around you. You just seem to “flow” with what you’re busy doing.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first developed the theory of “flow” and who authored the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the flow state is a happy state, and achieving flow is about living an enjoyable and happier life. She writes, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times … the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Indeed, the truth about the flow state is it’s voluntary; it doesn’t happen accidentally or unplanned. It’s something you have to trigger consciously and proactively. And since flow can be achieved consciously, here are few ways to trigger the flow state, enter your happiest state, and unleash your inner productivity.
1. Eliminate external distractions.
Research has shown that to reach the flow state, you need at least 10 to 15 minutes of undivided attention. This means you have to eliminate all external distractions. You have to disable phone notifications and alerts, close email tabs and social media apps, and remove all other distracting objects from your surroundings. Or, at the very least, you need to put your phone far away from you and find a very quiet environment in which to work.
Once you remove these distractions, you’ll be able to focus better, and it’ll be easier to enter the flow state. In fact, research shows that each time you’re distractd, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain full focus. This is called “attention residue,” implying that you still have some attention to the distraction. So, it’s important that you don’t get distracted.
2. Eliminate internal distractions.
In addition to external distractions, you need to eliminate internal distractions in order to reach the flow state. Whenever you’re stressed or there are too many things on your mind, it’ll be very hard to focus your mind on one task, making it very difficult, even impossible, to reach the flow state. One way to help you reduce internal distractions is to practice meditation. It can help you control your thoughts, limit your mind from wandering, and clear your mind.
3. Work at your biological peak time.
It’s hard to enter the flow state if you have low energy, since you need a lot of willpower and attention to help you focus on one thing. So it’s crucial that you only try to access the flow state when you’re energized and your mind is sharp, as opposed to drained or exhausted. Thus, you’ll want to try getting into the flow state in the morning, or just after a break—when you’re done checking your email and social media accounts.
4. Listen to the right type of music.
Some types of music can help you stay highly focused and productive—especially repetitive types of music like classical, trance, or techno. Listening to these types of music can make it easier for you to reach the flow state. Also, listening to music with your earbuds is a good way to block out external distractions, and to keep internal distractions to a minimum.
However, it’s important that you play music you’re familiar with, not new songs. When you play a new song, or a variety of songs, especially ones with vocals, they distract the brain, as they start fighting for the brain’s attention. This makes it harder for you to focus, and you’re less likely to reach the flow state. Listening to familiar music without vocals helps you flow.
5. Work on one specific challenging task.
When you’re not sure what you want to work on, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach the flow state; you have to be specific about the task. You’ll get easily distracted when you try to switch between multiple tasks; you won’t be able to get into the flow.
So pick one task, like editing a video or completing a piece of writing. Be clear on what you want to do and make it challenging for your brain. But also make sure the task isn’t too challenging, as that can lead to frustration and hinder you from reaching the flow state.
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