Do you feel unfocused?
Is it hard for you to concentrate fully on one activity at a time?
Are you having a hard time reaching your goals even though you’re working at them 24/7?
Your problem isn’t a lack of focus; It’s a brain that’s been trained to be distracted.
We live in a world where our brains are constantly stimulated by email, TV, ads, our phones, and so on.
At our jobs, we’re expected to multi-task by bouncing between answering incoming emails and trying to focus on the big presentation we’re putting together for Friday.
Well, I’m sorry to break it to you if you weren’t aware, but multi-tasking is a myth and you’re training your brain to be distracted and unable to focus on one thing at a time. Want to get on my bad side? Ask me if I can multi-task!
It’s not that you lack focus. It’s that you’ve never spent time training your brain to operate in that way. It’s like if you went to the gym and tried to squat 200 lbs the first day…that barbell isn’t going anywhere except maybe the ground. Ouch.
But, if you take the time to train your body by starting small and working your way up to the 200 lbs you might be able to squat it one day.
The same goes for your brain. If you take the time to train your brain on how to enter a flow state and get work done that needs your undivided attention your brain’s focus muscle will grow nice and strong.
What is a flow state?
Flow state, doing deep work, in the zone. They all basically mean the same thing: You are completely focused on the task at hand and giving it your undivided attention.
When we think of happiness we think of being relaxed and enjoying what we’re doing at the moment. However, research done over the last decade has shown that being completely engaged in a challenging activity actually makes people happier than simple relaxation. Maybe that’s why so many people struggle once they retire? I know I get pretty complacent when I have too much free time. Does anyone else have that problem?
Getting into a flow state for any task might be effortless for some depending on how passionate they are about the task or incredibly difficult for others no matter what the task is.
Don’t fret if you struggle with focus because being able to enter a flow state can be learned!
How to enter your flow state more easily
Schedule your time effectively
Optimize the amount of time you can spend in your flow state doing deep work that requires your undivided attention by chunking your time or theming your days.
Multi-tasking is actually just your brain switching between tasks rapidly and you’re getting less done than you would be if you just focused on doing one single task to the best of your ability. When you transition to one task from another it can take you up to 23 minutes to refocus your attention. Now imagine having to do that all day long in an open-plan office. Hard pass!
Not every job or lifestyle can support being able to do a single task at a time all day, but you can find a way to make this knowledge work for you.
If part of your job is responding to emails try finding a couple of times in your day that you can have 90-minute time chunks where you can shut down your email, turn off your phone, minimize any other distractions and focus on tasks that need your undivided attention.
You can also try chunking your whole day into 90-minute increments and have one of those increments be answering emails if that suits your job.
If you have more flexibility on how you can schedule your day as I do then I highly recommend theme days!
Theme days are when you concentrate on one goal or objective for the whole day. This optimizes your ability to enter and make use of your flow state by grouping similar tasks together.
I use Mondays to write posts for BuddhaBelly, guest posts, and articles for clients. It’s great timing because I’m refreshed after the weekend.
Wednesdays are for keyword research and other behind the scenes stuff.
Thursdays and Fridays are for productivity coaching and breathwork clients!
Scheduling my week like this has allowed me to write over 100+ SEO optimized posts for this site, other sites for guest posting purposes, and for clients this year. I’ve been able to study rigorously for the project management test I need to take, get my breathwork certification, and start taking my coaching business more seriously.
Create productivity rituals
It can be hard sometimes to get started on your work for the day or shift from one task to another. Personally, I have zero issues with procrastinating when it comes to research for posts and other academic-type work, but when it comes to a task that’s more creative like writing I tend to have a hard time getting into the flow. I procrastinate and then when I do get started my brain takes forever to get into a creative headspace.
As a productivity expert, I try and see what I can do to mitigate lost time like this and use it more effectively. For most people, being truly productive doesn’t mean needing to get more stuff done. It’s figuring out where our time wasters are and how to use that extra time more efficiently.
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to warm-up quickly for a new task is to create a custom ritual for it. When I’m ready to start writing I’ll light the same candle each time and turn on a meditation music playlist I made specifically for writing. I make sure to clear my desk of any unwanted distractions and I put my phone on mute. I do a quick 5-minute breathwork session to center myself and quiet my mind.
I’ve done this little ritual so many times before writing that the light orangey scent of the candle and the calming sounds bring my head right into a creative mindset. I sit down in my cute, velvet pink desk chair, power up my computer and I’m ready to get typing.
I have a nighttime ritual to help me calm down and get my body ready for sleep and one I do when I have an admin day where I know I’m going to have to exercise a lot of patience as I call insurance companies and figure out bills.
Rituals can help you by using your senses to get your body ready for the next task on multiple levels. Try it out!
Eliminate all distractions
Some of the best work comes from boredom or of starving your brain from quick and easy distractions! Entering a true flow state takes 10-to-15 minutes of undivided attention. Every time your attention hears that siren call of your cell phone the count to achieving your optimal flow state starts all over again.
Let go of your need to keep your mind busy at all times or the idea that productivity means never taking time for some R&R. Your brain needs whitespace to operate at its highest levels.
When you’re ready to get your flow state out remove anything that seems to pull your attention like open tabs on your computer, phone calls coming in, roommates, etc. Make sure to give yourself a specific timeframe that you’re going to work during and then take a break before getting back to work. If you feel like you’re in the zone when the time for a break comes up you can keep working, but I wouldn’t work longer than 120 minutes before taking a break. That’s when your output starts to go down in quality.
You may only be able to do quality work for 30 minutes at first and that’s okay! The more often you practice eliminating distractions and building your focus muscle the better you’ll get at entering flow state for longer periods of time!
Make the task challenging
In order to enter a flow state, you need to make sure the task is challenging enough to occupy your brain, but not so challenging that it depletes all your willpower energy. As Goldilocks shows you in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out what’s “just right”. It’ll take you some time to learn what your sweet spot is between too easy and too hard, but you’ll get there with some patience. I promise!
If a task is too easy try increasing the demand and if it’s too hard try breaking it down into smaller chunks!
Practice makes perfect
Did you groan? Me too. I know it’s a cliche’, but it’s true.
Knowing different ways to enter your flow state more easily doesn’t translate immediately to actually being able to enter it more quickly. It takes practice to grow that focus muscle so get your reps in!
The same thing goes for rituals. The more often you use a ritual to enter flow state the stronger that trigger will be.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you struggle for a while. Learning something new IS hard, but your mastery of flow state will pay dividends in the end!
I think we’ve all been there. You’re so busy working on something that time just seems to fly by. It happens to my boyfriend all the time whenever he’s working on a crafting project. I’m so jealous of his ability to just tune out there rest of the world. I joke he’d miss our wedding if I didn’t set an alarm for himself!
No need to be jealous though because learning how to enter your flow state and do it more easily can be learned. The triggers and practices mentioned above can help you get into your flow state and do it more quickly!
What helps you enter your flow state where time just seems to not exist?
If you want to learn more about flow state check out Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Want to keep reading? Check out these related posts:
- The Art of Finding Satisfaction: When is Enough Enough?
- How to Stop Self-doubt Now!
- How to Create a Personal Development Plan: The Ultimate Guide