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The Best Productivity Hack in the World Is Doing Work in a Flow State

by | May 5, 2022 | Life Hacks

Many people legit think I’m superhuman.

Sorry to disappoint but I’m not. I do have a secret though which I’ll share quietly with you.

What looks like superhuman powers is actually nothing more than an addiction to flow states. That’s right, flow states are a drug more addictive than heroin – except good for you.

A flow state is when you’re totally immersed in an activity. It teleports you to a place where there is no space or time.

Once you unlock this higher state of consciousness your entire life changes. The constructs of society or modern-day work no longer limit you.

Let me take you there.

Why most people don’t access flow

The reason this powerful state of mind eludes most people is best explained by organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant.

He says being in flow is what makes watching Netflix appealing. When you sit down to watch you crossover into another world. Instead of getting immersed in a work activity, you’re immersed in a story.

Netflix appears to help with a lack of success in life. But it’s a temporary state of mind. Once the show you’re watching ends you’re right back to where you started, except this time you have productivity regret. This further lowers your happiness.

Now you see the problem. Some forms of flow are toxic, so avoid them.

Ask yourself: does this activity bring me happiness or move my life forward?

The smartest people don’t have high IQs. They’re focused.

A focus test for all jobs should be a requirement.

It determines far more than the smartest-person-in-the-room test known as IQ, which secretly creates dummies.

To become more focused you first have to say no to bullsh*t work. That leaves you with work that provides fulfillment.

Albert Einstein says we learn the most when we’re doing an activity with so much enjoyment we’re not conscious of the number of hours that have passed. “I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal,” says Einstein.

Focus removes the unnecessary distractions so all of your human energy can get spent on a high-reward activity.

Photo by Dima Pechurin on Unsplash

The hidden advantages of flow states

1. Higher work output

I often tell people I can outwork almost any human in history. I don’t need to go into burnout to do it either. Most people who understand flow use it for 4 hours a day.

If I want to achieve more, then I do 4-8 hours of flow instead –sometimes even 12 hours if it’s a big task. I estimate that flow states give me at least three times the output.

So, what I do in 12 hours of flow is almost the equivalent of the average office worker’s entire week of work.

2. Less time working

When you access flow an entire workday can get compressed into as little as 4 hours.

So now you don’t need to slave away.

You have more time to relax, plan, and take your time. This makes you more mindful and present, slowing down your perception of time, and making life feel longer!

3. Better quality work

Distracted work is lazy work.

It’s poor quality and doesn’t earn a high rate of pay because of the low value it creates. Yet distracted work is the pillar of the global economy. All day most people sit in front of a screen full of red notifications and check their emails 101 times a day.

When you’re in a flow state you can think clearly.

This leads to better ideas. When you join the dots of ideas together through writing, video, public speaking or audio they, too, flow beautifully and attract other humans.

4. Doing what you love

Frank Prisinzano is a world-renowned chef. He says flow is like auto-pilot.

For him, being in flow while he cooks food doesn’t give him a feeling of work.

“You’re not worried about time. It just doesn’t exist.”

That’s how flow is for me. When I sit down to write online it’s not work. I get into a flow state effortlessly because the task transcends enjoyment.

5. True happiness

All of these flow state advantages lead to true happiness.

The founder of Basecamp software, David Heinemeier Hansson, says “I began to appreciate even more intently that flow and tranquility were the true sources of happiness for me all along.”

That’s how I feel. Being in a flow state while doing what I love is pure bliss. I feel like my life is worth something every time I do it.

So guess what?

I get into a flow state often and write. Flow states create a self-fulfilling prophecy. That prophecy can automate your success in what you love if left uninterrupted for enough years.

The sweet spot of flow

Before you can use flow states to change your life, it’s crucial you understand the alchemy that produces it.

The sweet spot of flow is when the activity you’re doing is high enough in difficulty and pushes your current skills far enough. If the work is too easy you’ll unlikely find flow. That’s why online writing is such a good flow state activity.

Writing is never easy. You’re trying to organize your brain’s jumbled mess into words on a screen another human can understand.

Here’s what the game of flow looks like visually.

Image credit: VisualTheory via Twitter

You want to sit in the middle of the flow state channel as much as possible. As an activity becomes second nature or comfortable, you want to increase the difficulty to find new levels of flow.

It explains how flow can make you the best in the world at something. If you become addicted to the drug of flow and then keep making your work harder to access it, again, success becomes automated.

What we want is that balance where an activity is testing us. Where success feels possible but not guaranteed. That’s when we experience “flow” – Eric Barker, flow expert

The exact flow state system I use

Let’s get down to business so you can use flow states to unlock your untapped potential, and, perhaps, change the world.

Throw the phone under the bed (or in the lake)

Flow doesn’t happen with a phone. Read that again.

Phones kill success, not create it.

They’re a distraction machine. They’re a slot machine in your pocket waiting to play ping pong with your attention. My phone is nowhere to be seen on a day of flow.

Some days I give it to my wife and she babysits it for me. She’ll even take it out to the shopping center with her. I don’t ever want to think about my phone or the secrets it’s withholding from me while I work in flow.

Coffee as an igniter

Flow states create energy for anyone that encounters the work you do in this higher state of consciousness.

To create energy it’s a good idea to inject energy into your body. Coffee does this beautifully. Because of my tinnitus hearing condition I can no longer drink normal coffee. So I get my kick from decaf coffee which only has a tiny amount of caffeine.

If you’re not a deaf grandpa like me then drink regular coffee.

Motion creates emotion

Next, I go to the gym and do a solid workout. Doesn’t matter what muscles you train. What matters is you break a sweat and feel exhausted from the workout. When you do, this releases endorphins into that beautiful body of yours.

Endorphins help you feel good which is perfect for flow. And exercising your body creates motion which makes you feel different emotions. Emotions are another form of energy you want to add to your flow state cocktail.

Have a warm shower

A warm shower is relaxing. When your mind is relaxed it starts to be more creative. Creativity and flow states go hand in hand.

Use music or white noise

Blocking out sound helps me increase the depth of my flow state.

Some people use movie soundtracks. For the last 6 months I’ve used a combination of rain, cafe chatter, and the sound of ocean waves because of my hearing condition.

The website that generates these sounds for me is called ‘A Soft Murmur.” You can mix together several sound sources to get your own customized flow state soundtrack.

Warm up on a stupidly simple task

If flow states form in a challenging environment that pushes your skill level, then starting with hard will become too overwhelming.

When your brain suspects a hard task is ahead it’ll try to talk you out of it. That’s when you’ll procrastinate.

Just like elite athletes it’s best to warm up on an easy task first.

As a writer I warm up by writing short one-sentence tweets. The effort is low and I don’t need any ritual or convincing to do it. I can do it with my eyes closed.

Also, that’s why writing tweets doesn’t get me into flow. It’s too easy, and easy is a flow state killer. “Choose your hard” as they say.

Entrepreneur Gary Vee uses flow too and says he has a similar philosophy.

Out of the approximately 320 days a year I work out, I don’t really feel like it on about 290 of them but I know if I can just get through the first five or ten minutes, I’ll get into my flow.

Put flow in the calendar

I don’t wait for luck to enable my flow state. Every flow state is scheduled on my calendar so I get my fix of the drug daily.

Sahil Bloom is an elite performer in the world of business and finance. He writes about both topics in his popular Substack. He uses a calendar to schedule flow too.

Below is a snapshot of a typical day on his calendar, with green being flow states.

Image Credit: Sahil Bloom calendar via Twitter

While Sahil does 2-hour chunks of flow at a time, I prefer to do 8 hours. I have big goals, though, and a baby girl on the way, so it depends on your circumstances.

Take small breaks

If you work in flow for too long without a break, your energy levels will fall off a cliff.

One of my favorite writers, Lawrence Yeo, has a philosophy I use. He takes a walk around his office without breaking his attention from the task he’s doing.

A friend of mine goes a step further.

He keeps his headphones playing music while he takes a break to go to the bathroom or get food. The music becomes an anchor for his attention. While his work has temporarily stopped, his flow state is kept alive thanks to the music.

Taking small breaks allows a flow state to last longer.

Same time every day

My friend Ayodeji Awosika says he has found a way to automate his flow states.

By showing up on the same days at the same time to get into flow, his brain is trained like a puppy dog to turn on flow. The same has happened to me.

Getting in and out of flow is simple because I’ve done it for 8 years in a row.

Divide up your flow states

This is a new technique I only just learned from Toby Howell.

Toby divides up flow states into two categories:

  1. Ideation flow state: walking, showering, running
  2. Creation flow state: music playing, no phone allowed, 25-minute working blocks

Ideation flow states give him the idea he needs to create his best work and challenge his future flow state sessions. And his creation flow state is where he transforms the thinking from his ideation sessions into tangible work results.

By having two categories of flow it makes the depth of flow even greater.

Final Thought

The people at the top of their field all use flow states. Every time I read the story of someone who has achieved the impossible, as you can see from this article, flow gets mentioned.

Success is inevitable in flow.

Get in a flow state for 4 hours per day. Watch it change your life.

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