How to Focus Better by Harnessing “Flow”

How to focus and stay on-task for an extended period of time is a real challenge for many people. “Focus” isn’t easy. It takes time, effort, and active concentration. Focus is a skill we develop over time. Like any skill, it requires practice.

Attention is a finite resource. It’s our most important tool in the task of making progress when you choose to work. Distractions are always much more tempting than difficult work, much more comforting than facing fears. Your ability to overcome distractions can significantly improve your level of focus.

Napoleon Hill once said “There is one quality that one must possess to win,and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

Focus is one of the most important factors for achieving any goal or sticking to a new habit. That means to focus on something we have to convince ourselves it’s worth our effort and attention.

Have you ever completely lost yourself in a task, so that the world around you disappears? You lose track of time and are completely caught up in what you’re doing.

That’s the popular concept of Flow, and it’s an important ingredient to doing work and loving what you do. It’s in this state that we do our best, most efficient work effortlessly.

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has studied the relationship between attention and work, has written extensively about Flow.

Mihaly enourages us to muster enough energy to do what we know we should do. “We create ourselves by how we use this energy”, he says.

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he writes:

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.
For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last blockon a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

From pianists to athletes, Mihaly found that people across a wide range of disciplines all identify a state in which they’re able to forget themselves and focus singularly on the task at hand.

The same clarity of purpose and dedication can be harnessed when create a piece of art, write a piece of code, or when you are writing your most important book.

You are most likely to enter a state of flow when you’re faced with a task that requires both a high level of perceived skill and offers you a challenge.

Spending time unplugged, disconnected, and in silence can improve your focus

The simple process that can help you find flow

1. Set a time limit

Pick your most important task and set a limited time to do it. It can be half an hour or twenty minutes or less. Start small to improve your chances of sticking with your new habit.

This can hard to do in the beginning but if you consciously focus on focusing, you can do it. Choose what works best for you. That time is solely for doing just one thing and doing it well without distraction or break.

The time limit helps sharpen your focus and increase your output.

You can use the Pomodoro technique in this process.

2. Limit your tasks to just ONE

This means you MUST close everything that can hinder your flow. If you work on a computer, close everything that isn’t absolutely necessary for the task at hand.

If you don’t need the Internet to write something, close it. Close email, all notifications and reminders, all programs not needed for your task. Close all other tabs.

3. Immerse yourself in the task

The aim is to use all your brain energy on that one task at hand. You want to be able to make significnat progress within the specified time. Don’t break your flow.

Plug in the headphones if you want. If you have people around who might distract you, wearing headphones and playing some good, peaceful music is perfect.

Do nothing but that one task. Don’t switch to another task.

4. Take a break

Stick to your time and take a quick five minutes break to refresh. Take a five to 10 minute break every time you hit your time limit. The quality of your break is more important than how long it is.

5. Repeat

Keep doing your work in short measurable time and take note of your progress. Rejoice in how much work you got done! And notice how you’ve set up a positive feedback cycle for focusing. Reward yourself after a successful period of focused work.

Feel free to go wild and do three focus sessions in a day if you like, but the important thing is to stick to your time and take breaks where necessary.

At 30 minutes of focus, you’ve earned a 5 or 10 minutes break. And once you’re at 30 minutes, you can stay there or extend it to 40 after break.

Remember to take baby steps when you begin.

One more thing…

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