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Getting In Flow State – The Key To Extreme Productivity

Written by: Maria R. Riegger, Esq., Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

One of the main problems in modern society is that we have an increasingly difficult time being productive. We are too distracted to get in (and stay in) flow state. It is not completely our fault. After all, we have countless distractions continuously vying for our attention. Further, more than ever, others feel entitled to our time and attention.

Productivity Performance Efficiency Capacity Results Concept

If we want to harness flow state to exponentially increase our productivity and achieve our goals, it is up to us to make that happen. Here’s how.


What is flow state?

Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, notes that flow (also called engagement) is one of the top five areas that we should seek for maximum fulfillment in life. Seligman describes flow as complete absorption in an activity, to the exclusion of other things. As Seligman states, you are in a flow state when time stops for you and you feel at home. He notes that flow is one of the highest forms of well-being. You are fully in the present moment and feel at peace. Indeed, when we are fully engaged in an activity, the mind blocks out almost everything else. This extreme level of concentration allows us to focus, which clears the mind. Flow state is a wonderful antidote to the anxious, racing thoughts that so many of us experience. When we engage in activities such as video gaming, reading a page-turning book, or listening to moving music, we are likely in flow state. When we are absorbed in working on an interesting project, such as writing a novel or performing a mechanical repair, we are likely in flow state. When we are in flow state, and completely engaged in the activity, we are in the present moment instead of anxiously ruminating over past events and future concerns. In that moment, nothing else exists for us except for the present activity.


The benefits of flow state: Hyper productivity and momentum

Another application of flow is complete absorption in productive tasks, and this is what I would like to focus on here. Due to the high level of concentration and extreme focus when in flow state, you are easily able to move from thought to thought and from task to task. Being in flow state avoids task switching, where you are constantly interrupted, either by your own ruminating thoughts or by someone else. To illustrate the negative effects of task switching, think of a time when you were driving with little to no traffic. Now picture that the road has no stop lights, or that the stoplights all turn green for you. You take your foot off the gas pedal and the car glides easily along the road. This sensation of forward momentum, where you almost literally flow along the road, is akin to being in flow state when you seamlessly move from task to task, and thought to thought. Now picture a car cutting you off while you are cruising at fifty miles per hour. Or, a stoplight turns yellow, requiring you to hit the brakes hard. Your absorption in the activity is brutally interrupted, which causes you to be irritated. This sensation is similar to being interrupted when you are working in flow state. These interruptions compel you to engage in task switching (what some erroneously refer to as multitasking and which should be discouraged). The main problem with task switching is that every time you are interrupted and need to refocus on a different task, your energy takes a hit. Further, it takes additional time to refocus on an interrupted task or thought once the interruption ends. Eventually, you will have little to no energy left to concentrate. You end up spending more time on a task and using more energy. This dynamic is especially tough for introverts, who are sensitive to dopamine and whose energy is more heavily taxed by the constant interruptions that force us to engage in task switching. In flow state, we easily make mental connections and seamlessly move from task to task with no interruptions, almost like being in a perfectly choreographed dance routine. It often happens that, after a period in flow, working on an interesting project, we are shocked by how much we have accomplished in a relatively short period of time. This heightened productivity is due to the fact that we are able to accomplish more in less time AND use less energy to do so. Some productivity experts refer to this phenomenon as time-bending, in which you are able to accomplish exponentially more tasks by being in flow state. Mastering flow state is thus key to being hyperproductive. Further, this extreme productivity from being in flow state gives us a great sense of accomplishment, which in turn motivates us more to get things done. The benefits of flow state, therefore, are 1.) extreme productivity, and 2.) a feeling of contentment at your accomplishments. These two aspects reinforce each other. When we are productive, we are motivated to be even more productive. Being productive and accomplishing your tasks and goals ultimately leads to a more fulfilling life. This is all well and good. So how do we enter and, most importantly, stay in flow state?


How to get in (and stay in) flow state


Here is what you need to do to prepare for and get in flow state. It is not always easy. However, once you make time for it, and make it a habit, momentum takes over.


Make sure your boundaries are iron-clad

The most important thing you can do to make starting flow state easier is to strengthen your boundaries. All day, every day, people are asking us for things. Asking us for help, to answer questions, to hang out, etc. Sometimes the requests are legitimate; often, people figure out that we’re helpers and will do the work that they don’t want to do.

Either way, these requests force us to constantly task switch. If you are task-switching all day, then you cannot get into flow state. First, say “No” early and often. Turn down social events, invitations to hang out, volunteer requests, etc. You can do them if you like, but schedule them around your productive time in flow state. Second, make yourself unavailable. This is truly the best way to make sure that you protect your productive time. You can say “No” as often as you want, but being forced to stop, address the request, and say “No” (while also sometimes feeling guilty about it)constitutes task switching, which is anathema to flow state.


Further, having to say “No” is especially tough for those of us healing from childhood trauma, who were not allowed to say “No” when we were children. However, making yourself unavailable, such that people have to wait for your attention, helps you have the time and focus to get in flow state. People do not have a right to your time. Your partner and children do, obviously, and you should make time for them. And, of course, very young children need you more often.

However, even your partner and children will take up more of your time than warranted if you allow them to. Very rarely will anyone spontaneously realize that you need a break, are overwhelmed, or need to work on your own projects. It is YOUR responsibility to communicate that to others and to take care of your own needs. Taking care of your goals often requires removing yourself from distracting situations.


Get rid of all distractions

We are constantly bombarded with distractions, notifications, and requests. Silence everything and avoid people. Yes, avoid people. Turn off your phone, go to an undisclosed location(coffee shop, etc.), and do not answer messages or calls from people. They can wait. Retrain people to wait for your response. They are not entitled to immediate attention from you. Your time is valuable, too.


Release physical tension

Before you sit down to do the work, release physical tension and physical energy needs. Take a brisk walk, do a weightlifting session, play with your dog, etc. This activity helps quell the feelings of restlessness and the feeling of “I should be doing something,” or “I should not be sitting down, I should be active.” You have already done the activity, now you are psychologically prepared to sit down and do the work. Note that this step is not required. Some people prefer to do the work in flow state, then vigorously exercise. Sometimes our restless energy motivates our minds to do the work. Try it both ways and see what works best for you.


Start the task

It’s that easy. Just start. Even if you are tired, often when we start a task we get the energy to continue and even finish it. For example,if I don’t feel like writing, sometimes I will just start writing, even if it’s not that great. Often, the act of typing leads to great content. Starting is half the battle. Set a timer for, e.g., 15 minutes and tell yourself that you will do the task for 15 minutes. Often, when the 15 minutes expire, you keep going. That is the momentum that we are looking for here. Another reason the timer works is because you know that you have a limited amount of time and then can take a break. The limited time motivates you to work as hard as you can, and the upcoming break acts as a reward. Lastly, throw perfectionism out the window (for now). Get the job done. Remember, half-assed results are better than no results. You can always go back and edit or fix things later.


Conclusion

In conclusion, getting in flow state is necessary for our personal fulfillment. From a productivity standpoint, it is essential to maximize our time. The resulting productivity heightens our mood and sense of accomplishment, which in turn encourages us to keep striving and pursuing our personal and professional goals. Giving yourself permission to get in flow state to work on your own goals is one of the areas I help parents within my coaching program, Thriving After Trauma. You can aim to get in flow state as often as you like. You can get in flow state for a few minutes each day or for several hours a couple of times per week. Even if you are only able to dedicate one day per week or per month to getting in flow state, you will be amazed at how much you are able to accomplish. Once you accomplish those goals, you will enjoy family and social activities even more, because you will not stress over your unfinished projects.


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Maria R. Riegger, Esq., Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Maria Riegger is an author and parenting coach, who specializes in reparenting from childhood trauma. A rocky childhood, involving the death of a parent and narcissistic abuse, led Maria to consider how to be a better parent in a crazy world. In short, more laughs and positive connections and less dictating and criticizing. Parents should parent with the child's particular needs in mind, rather than the parents' ego needs.

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