When our focus is like a lazer and everything else just seems to melt away except for you and the task at hand, this is the ultimate mental state to be in.
In sports, this concept is called being in “The Zone”, where you’re physically peaked and ready to decimate the opposition. “Flow” is the mental equivalent to this — where you have complete focus on your work and you actually WANT to complete your work.
You can achieve Flow consciously by starting your workday (or restarting your day after lunch) with this three step Flow Formula:
1) Clear outside distractions
2) Relieve inner conflict
3) Do a timed work burst
WHY THIS WORKS
There are only two places where distraction can reside: outside in your Environment (i.e. phone rings, email notifications pop up, your coworker comes to pick your brain, etc) and inside your head (i.e. feeling angry or sad, not “feeling motivated”, etc). These three steps take care of all of that.
Josh Kaufman has mentioned these three steps in his book, the Personal MBA (note: non-affiliate link), but his book didn’t quite cover how to actually IMPLEMENT this three step process. I’ll cover more on the HOW below:
1) CLEAR DISTRACTIONS
Get rid of the things that can distract you. Here are some examples you can do:
- Mute your phone
- Disable email pop-ups and IM services
- Come up with a default thing to say to your coworkers ahead of time (i.e. “Sure I’ll help you out! I’m in the middle of something for my boss, why don’t we discuss this at 4pm?”)
- Download ColdTurkey, a website blocking software, so you can eliminate the temptation to go to Reddit, Facebook, or Youtube while you want to work
2) RELIEVE INNER CONFLICT
Blocking distracting sites is a good strategy. Unless of course you feel like you WANT to be distracted. That’s what I call “inner conflict” — when you know you SHOULD be working on something, but you don’t.
Believe it or not, your mind is ALWAYS on your side. It just may have conflicting ideas as to what would be best for you. One part of you has these goals you want to achieve and wants to work, but another part of you knows you’re exhausted from staying up late last night (again) and wants to rest. You can’t do both at the same time, so you just stay in stasis doing nothing productive until you can relieve this conflict.
The first step to relieving an inner conflict is to pull out a piece of paper to write on. Our minds are awesome problem solving machines, but they’re 1000x more effective at solving problems outside itself than inside itself (note: multiplier is estimated, I have no study so don’t ask for it 🙂 )
It’s tough to describe how to relieve an internal conflict, but essentially you’ll be writing down how you can satisfy BOTH sides in a sufficient way. Solutions could include:
- Setting a “Get Ready for Bed” alarm for 7pm so you get to bed very early tonight so you don’t run into this conflict tomorrow.
- Work hard for 15 minutes, then do something distracting for 15 minutes, then repeat.
- Promising (and sticking to) working until lunch, but taking your lunch outside.
- If you’re not an employee (i.e. you’re a college student or freelancer) take a nap for 20 minutes and THEN get started.
This is a reflection exercise, so I can’t solve it for you — but help you in this exercise, here’s a short checklist of reasons you’d be resistant to doing something to get you started (a list taken from Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA) along with my examples of them in action:
- You can’t define what you want.
(i.e. your end goal is vague)
- You feel the task will bring you closer to something you don’t want.
(i.e. if you think money is an evil evil thing, you’ll internally resist making more for fear you’ll become more evil)
- You can’t figure out how you’re going to get from where you are right now to where you want to be.
(i.e. you don’t have a solid plan – you’re staring at your Mount Everest of a Goal in the distance and not seeing how to get through the jungle to even get there)
- You idealize your desired end result to the point your mind estimates a low probability of achievement.
(i.e. if you’ve ALWAYS dreamed of getting a promotion, but it seems so distant of a goal you consider it more of a dream than a goal, you’re probably stuck here.)
- The “should” was established by someone else, not you, so you resist working on it.
(i.e. this is most common with work projects as an employee – you don’t often get to choose your projects)
- A competing action in the current Environment promises immediate gratification, while the reward of the task in question will come much later.
(i.e. if you’ve ever wanted to start a new project or learn a new skill or hobby, but then looked at your Wii or Netflix account and thought, “Oh, I’ll just play one,” you’re probably stuck here.)
- The benefits of the action are abstract and distant, while other possible actions will provide concrete and immediate benefits.
(i.e. your goal is vague, but you SURE know that watching the latest episode of Family Guy will be awesome!)
NOTE: Do any of these points vibe with you? Which ones? If you want me to cover how to systematically overcome these resistances, email me here and I’ll write all about it.
3) DO A TIMED WORK BURST
Even once you’ve eliminated both outer distractions and inner conflicts, it’s tough to get a Mac truck to go from 0 to 60mph. Once you get started, however, you’ll just want to keep moving.
For this, use a timer to do a quick 15 to 25 minute burst of work – keeping in mind “If I don’t feel like working after that 15/25 minutes, I can get up and stretch for 5-10 minutes.”
My favorite timer to use is CoolTimer. It’s free and can pop up a reminder to take a break, if you want to.
Don’t hesitate to implement this system immediately – try it now! Choose one item to do, run through this system, and give it a dedicated 25 minute burst. You’ll be surprised how much you get done.
Finally, as with most areas of productivity, the most important thing to manage when you’re working is your ENERGY. It’s hard to not get distracted when you’re exhausted from the stresses in your day. Subscribe to my newsletter below and I’ll give you my free Energy Optimization Checklist, which is a quick exercise you can take at any time to optimize your energy NOW.