How to Get Into Flow: 5 Actionable Tips to Being In the Zone

written by Dan Silvestre

how to get into flowWhen you know how to get into flow, it’s the closest thing you can have to a superpower.

If you’ve ever truly experienced flow, you know there’s nothing quite like it.

And it’s a feeling so addictive that once you’ve experienced it, you crave more of it.

It’s the greatest productivity booster out there, better than any app or method.

The flow state is the key to ultimate productivity.

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a state where you feel your best and perform your best.

It’s those moments of rapt attention and total absorption.

While in a state of flow, you are so focused on the task at hand that everything around you disappears and time dilates.

All aspects of physical and cognitive performance go through the roof.

Your focus is sharp, so awareness and activity merge, making you able to achieve much more than in your usual state of mind.

Flow increases your work satisfaction, boosts creativity, and your personal and professional happiness.

Really, it’s a state where hard work meets joy and meaning.

If you train yourself to optimize this state of flow, you can do more in one day than your average Joe does in a week.

More than promotions, accolades, and fancy titles, how happy you are at work will depend greatly on how much of your time you spend in flow.

So if you want to enjoy your work more, you need to engineer a flow state, even if it isn’t the default.

How to Get Into Flow

You encounter the most resistance at the beginning of a task. But that doesn’t mean it will always be like that.

After the initial stage, work feels effortless because you’re used to it already.

It’s easier to complete a second hour of work than starting the first ten minutes.

Newton’s first law says:

“A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion.”

Once you overcome the inertia, then you can focus on results.

Here’s the truth:

Getting into the flow state is not something that happens by accident

You can put yourself in the flow state proactively.

All you need to know are the triggers that help you get there.

We are hardwired for optimal performance. So we just need to learn how to tap into our flow triggers to enter this state of improved performance.

Flow is learned.

And more importantly, flow is hackable.

Think about what you need to do.

Get there.

All the way there.

Nothing can distract you.

This is your zone and you are in full control.

You’re ready to rock.

You’re in flow.

You’ll be, by the end of this article.

#1 Use Your Biological Prime Time

how to get into flow biological prime time

Your “biological prime time” is the time of the day when you have the most energy and potential to be productive.

Focusing on the day’s main task during these times will make flow state a more achievable goal.

When it comes to the art of focus, everyone is wired differently.

Most people find it easier to focus in the morning, after a good night’s sleep.

But for others, it’s later in the day when they have built up momentum and their brain is in cruise control.

Establish what time in the day your brain is at its performance peak, and then use it to work on your most important task.

Getting into the flow state is hard if you are low on energy.

Make it a goal to be fresh and fully rested during your peak hours. That’s when it will be easiest to get into a flow state.

For me, the first three hours of the day are more productive than the entire rest of the day combined.

80% of my output every day comes from those 3 hours.

Block time in your calendar and label it “DNS – Do Not Schedule” so everyone knows to respect those hours.

#2 Work on One Very Specific Task

how to get into flow single task

When it isn’t fully clear about what exactly you’re going to work on, it’ll be highly unlikely that you reach the flow state.

You’ll either switch between many different tasks too quickly or get distracted much easier.

Both will prevent you from getting into the flow state.

So pick one specific task that you’re going to work on.

Remember post-its? Time to grab one and put it in front of you. That’s what you’ll be working on until it’s completed.

There’s no shortcut to this ability.

You simply need to practice, be aware of where your mind is going, and try to limit your vulnerability to distraction.

As ​Leo Babauta explains​ on his blog Zen Habits:

“This takes practice. You need to start on your chosen task and keep your focus on it for as long as you can. At first, many people will have difficulty, if they’re used to constantly switching between tasks.

But keep trying, and keep bringing your focus back to your task. You’ll get better. And if you can keep your focus on that task, with no distractions, and if your task has been chosen well (something you love, something important, and something challenging), you should lose yourself in Flow.”

How to Get into Flow by Single-Tasking

Here’s one simple hack I use to ​single-task​:

I work in full-screen mode.

  • If I’m reading an article on the web, my browser takes up the whole screen
  • If I’m writing in a Google Doc, I’m working in full-screen mode

I have set up my desktop so that the menu bar disappears automatically.

When I am working, I can’t see the time, the icons of other applications, or any other distractions on the screen

It’s funny how big of a difference this makes for my focus and concentration.

If you can see an icon on your screen, then you will be reminded to click on it occasionally.

But if you remove the visual cue, then the urge to be distracted subsides in a few minutes.

Full-screen mode forces you to get completely immersed in whatever it is you’re working on.

#3 Create a Pre-Game Flow Ritual

how to get into flow ritual

To induce a flow state, you must have rituals.

A flow state ritual is an action (or series of actions) you take every time you’re about to start working on a critical task.

This ritual helps put you in the single-track mindset required to enter the flow state.

Your ritual could mean meditating for ten minutes. Slowly and deliberately making a cup of tea as you contemplate the task at hand. Or taking a short walk outside to get your blood moving and the creative juices flowing.

The point is simply that you perform the same task every time before you enter the flow state.

This repetition will eventually cause the ritual to be a Pavlovian signal of sorts. It triggers a biological response in your body that prepares it to focus.

Create a set of cues that your body can associate with being in a flow state. Things you do regularly around your work time.

Once your brain has made the association, you can use these cues to signal to your body that it’s time to go into that hypnotic state.

The Routine is the Cue

For example:

My body associates flow with coffee, headphones, and music.

At this point, if I get some, or preferably all these cues in place, I’m usually able to get into a flow state fairly effortlessly.

The first step in learning to use this magic for yourself is to pay attention to your habits and your feelings:

  • When you’re feeling your most productive, where do you tend to be?
  • What time of day is it?
  • What else is going on around you?

By observing my behaviors, I’ve learned that starting my day right is the best thing I can do for my productivity.

If I don’t stick with my morning routine, my mood the rest of the day just feels … off.

Years ago, I moved from banking to become self-employed. And so I started working from home, rather than going to an office.

And in the beginning, this was hard. I was not disciplined, at all!

My fix?

I started repeating the same routine as if I were going to the bank.

Same wake-up time.

The same morning routine.

I even dressed in a suit and tie before sitting at my desk.

And although I’m sure my neighbors were confused about this young man sitting at his desk every day in a suit and tie, it worked.

I was finally able to sit down and do the work.

The routine was the cue.

Your Flow State Routine

So, what can you do?

At first, it might be hard to tell which cues make the most difference. If that’s the case, just pay attention to which cues “set the scene” for your most productive days.

We’re not looking for magic buttons to press — those don’t exist.

We’re just looking for the cues that create the context in which we are our best, most productive selves.

The goal is to find cues that help keep you on track for productivity without you having to worry about it.

The less work you have to do to be productive, the more energy you’ll have to get work done.

Your flow ritual can be just about anything that gives a signal to your brain that it’s time to start digging in the flow.

Your favorite ‘in the zone’ song. Pulling down the curtains. Brewing a fresh cup of coffee. Or anything else that makes you react and focus your thoughts in one direction.

Stacking multiple cues—coffee, headphones, music—is even more powerful. You can do this with a simple morning routine.

Create a series of actions that you do every single time you’re about to begin your task. This could be a meditation, a short walk, or a pot of tea. No matter your activity, it will let your brain know what’s about to begin and that you are coaxing it to be ready.

How to Find Your Flow Triggers

Biologically speaking, creating a ritual around our activity can create what’s called a homeostatic function in the environment.

This means that our mind and body respond automatically to cues we set up, making it so it takes less effort to sink into focused action.

The “catch” here is that these triggers are unique to each person and task. So you have to experiment and find these triggers for yourself.

Keep in mind that flow follows focus and can only show up when we are fully immersed in the task in front of us. So focus your attention on identifying triggers that drive your attention into the now.

Human behavior is largely based on neuro-association, a deep-rooted connection that the brain forms between different things.

In this case, your mental cue should be connected to the flow state, so that every time you do it, the flow state gets triggered in your mind.

For example:

You can say a certain word or sentence repeatedly, close your eyes and count down from 10, or even stand up and stretch your body.

Every time you want to get into the state, start by doing the flow state triggers. Over time, a neuro-association will get formed and you’ll be able to induce it by simply doing the cue.

#4 Find the Right Sound for Flow

how to get into flow sound for flow

As I said before, music is the right sound for flow for me. I put on my Airpods and I’m ready to enter another world.

You can listen to some beats at ​​ and ​Brain.Fm​ the next time you’re doing something that requires your full concentration.

I listen to different music depending on the type of task:

I’m also a big fan of movie songs to get in the zone.

My go-to playlists are ​LOTR Soundtrack​, Ramin Djawadi’s music for ​Game of Thrones season 7​, and ​Hans Zimmer’s best hits​.

Listening to those on noise-canceling headphones puts me in the ideal frame of mind to achieve flow.

The point is this:

Find the sound that works for you.

To create a “flow state” playlist, choose repetitive music without lyrics from the electronic, classical, or jazz genre, for example. Avoid earworms.

Or you can go more hardcore and listen to the same song over and over again. Loudly.

Use ​Listen on Repeat​ and choose any song from YouTube.

Melodic music, played on repeat, puts you in a heightened emotional state while simultaneously dulling your awareness of most of your surroundings. It puts you in a creative zone. The important facilities are turned on, while all the others are turned off.

The Power of Music for Flow

Music has been shown to help focus better – particularly repetitive music that doesn’t require the brain to keep processing new patterns, rhythms, and lyrics, such as trance and classical. It can also help ward off intruding thoughts that prevent you from fully focusing on a task.

The writer Michael Lewis (​Liar’s Poker​, ​The Blind Side​, ​The Big Short​) uses the same technique:

“I pull down the blinds. I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of twenty songs over and over and I don’t hear them. It shuts everything else out. So I don’t hear myself as I’m writing and laughing and talking to myself. I’m not even aware I’m making noise. I’m having a physical reaction to a very engaging experience. It is not a detached process.”

Repeating the same song or 2-3 songs allows the songs to fade into themselves – to become a more or less continuous stream.

I like big pop hits because they normally have big, catchy choruses.

The idea is that after listening enough times, the song becomes a perpetual chorus.

All that’s left is the work at hand.

Prefer techno? Great! Find a playlist that works for you.

Prefer ambient sound? Use ​Coffitivity​.

The site ​Desk Jams​ offers music specifically curated to help you get into a flow state with work.

Other curated collections include ​music for creative work​, ​studying​, ​gaming​, ​meditation​, and ​sleeping​.

Find it easier to focus in total silence? Then keep it that way.

If you don’t want people constantly talking to you while you’re working, or you don’t feel like listening to music, you can just wear a pair of headphones.

Just the idea that you have headphones on will discourage anyone from trying to converse with you.

It’s a great trick to block out the outside world.

#5 Break the Barrier of Getting Started

So you have the environment, the music, the setup, the right task in front of you— now what?

Now it’s time to do the work.

The hardest thing about focus is getting started.

So let’s remove that obstacle right now.

Set a timer for 25 minutes (​here’s one​)

Now go work on your task for 25 minutes.

Just 25 minutes, that’s it!

You can stop after that, but resist giving up before the 25 minutes are up.

This is called the ​Pomodoro Technique​.

It was developed in the late 1980s by then-university student Francesco Cirillo.

Cirillo was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments.

Feeling overwhelmed, he asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time.

Encouraged by the challenge, he found a tomato (Pomodoro in Italian) shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.

The technique is simple:

  1. Get a task and a timer
  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings
  3. When your session ends, mark off one Pomodoro and record what you completed
  4. Then enjoy a five-minute break
  5. After four Pomodoros, take a longer, more restorative 15-30 minute break

This is why I like to break tasks into something I can complete in either 25 or 50 minutes.

Sometimes, I’m able to work more than 50 minutes on a task.

But the Pomodoro Technique is a simple way to start training your focus.

The Advanced Pomodoro Technique Variant

I suggest one variant though:

If you’re still focused when the timer rings, keep going.

I find 90 min of complete focus better than 3 sessions of 30 min.

Take a longer break after this and come back.

Now, maybe you’re only going to resist 30 or 60 minutes before your mind starts to wander.

That’s ok. It’s expected.

Train your focus little by little.

Sometimes you just need to break the seal for your body to remember that it feels good to be in a flow state.

Practice Makes a Perfect Flow State

So, how does flow feel?

Magical, right?

Once you’ve discovered how to get into flow, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s an addictive feeling.

So make sure you follow the steps outlined in this article and start designing your days and work for flow.

Come back and read this post as many times as needed until you know you’ve nailed the perfect formula for you. Keep experimenting and see what works.

In the words of Bruce Lee (and one of my favorite quotes):

“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”

Now go get it.

I’m rooting for you.

Tags:: Flow

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