Strategies to maximize your flow state

It’s 3pm and you just realized you haven’t eaten lunch. You’re so engrossed in whatever you’re doing (be it reading, programming or writing) that you forget about your basic human needs. By the time you realize this, you think: “damn, that was a good session”.

This focus-induced tunnel vision is often referred to as flow state. Flow state can occur periodically throughout the day, but each session can yield completely different results, one thing is consistent however: there are precursors that trigger them and they can be controlled.

The key is to identify these flow state triggers and control when they happen.

Flow state is like a drug to me, I’m constantly seeking my next fix. The productivity and value derived from a flow session is addicting. From these cyclical pursuit of metaphorical highs, I’ve compiled strategies that work for me and could for you to.

Mental Preparation

It’s 2018 and if you haven’t been recommended mindfulness by your hipster friends then I suggest you get out more. However, it’s no longer a hipster trend. Mindfulness is the practice of being present, giving your 100% attention on the current activity.

Ever wonder why guided meditations walk you through breathing exercises? This is so you can focus on your breathe and convert everything else into the background.

I try to find 5 minutes every day (usually right when I wake up) to practice mindfulness. It’s quite literally being conscious of my breathing for 5 minutes and focusing solely on that without any distractions of the day. Insight Timer and Headspace are fantastic, free apps to train your mindfulness muscles.

Mindfulness, just like any skill is a muscle that needs constant flexing to get stronger. It is the embodiment of being in a flow state, focusing on one single thing and is a critical technique to getting and staying in the flow zone.

Finding Passion in the Work

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” — Alan W. Watt

Alan Watt is a great philosopher and motivational speaker and he’s right by saying figure out what you enjoy and it is no longer considered “work”. Here’s a good primer to his content for the uninitiated: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emHAoQGoQic

This is such a challenging question to answer in a way that’s applicable to anyone but me so I’ll address it from my perspective. I try to double down on my interests, and leverage my network to find people whose interests fill my weaknesses.

The ability to even figure out what to delegate/outsource is hinged on surface level knowledge of the subject, after all how can you delegate something you know nothing about. That’s why it’s important to be a jack of all trades but expert in one particular field.

Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. That’s how you determine what you’re passionate about and from there you can take incremental steps towards becoming an expert.

Cut off Outside Noise

I’m no psychologist but I’m fairly sure most people think in sentences. When external and surrounding sentences become audible, it becomes a challenge to balance with your own mental words.

For this reason, I try to listen to playlists that are free of any lyrics and usually instrumental. Video game music is designed to keep listeners/players moving along and experiencing excitement throughout their epic journey. That epic journey is my flow state productivity!

Here’s a good Video Game Playlist on Spotify that I listen to when I am in flow state and another super effective playlist.

Diet, Supplements and Exercise

When I learn about a food’s benefits for the first time, depending on its’ barrier to entry, I am always tempted to atleast try it out. Usually my progression is:

Usually my source for learning about new foods, supplements and diets comes from:

  • Podcasts: Dr Rhonda Patrick’s Found My Fitness is incredibly valuable although it can often be overwhelming because she is an intense scientist, she introduced me to several foods that I’ve introduced into my own diet: Bone Broth, Broccoli Sprouts, Kimchi and Kombucha. All of which I make myself because they passed that step 1 test and are super simple to DIY.
  • Articles: Dave Asprey’s Bullet Proof and Tim Ferriss’ blogs were actually my own primers into self experimentation. They both go into great detail on new supplements, nootropics, and diets. Of the pieces they’ve introduced, some have passed that step 1 test including: Probiotic Tablets, Butter Coffee (with KerryGold… mmm) and various exercise routines like HIIT, 5x5, and Intermittent Fasting.
  • Forums: Quantified Self, and /r/Nootropic Surveys are both extremely fringe but gradually becoming more mainstream sources of information. I have yet to take the plunge into some of the Nootropics and Quantified Self supplements but I’m increasingly curious about Phenibut, Kava, and L-Theanine (mixed with Caffeine). A successful startup founder, Serge reviews his own experimental Nootropics in a super detailed article .

Analyze Trends

The cornerstone of every newly introduced habit, diet, and activity is to employ scientific experiment principles. Since I’ve reviewed how to set up a self experiment framework via Meports, I’ll review the analysis of trends.

I’ve been using Meports’ productivity and reflections modules every day for 6 months now and the trends are interesting.

First off, my habit is to add tomorrows’ daily goals every evening:

Meports daily goals module

Then I make sure to submit atleast one self-reflection every day:

Meports daily reflections module, question one: how are you feeling?

“Pain + Reflection = Progress” — Ray Dalio, author of Principles and founder of Bridgewater Associates

This daily reflections module asks three questions pertaining to your feeling, accomplishment, and gratitude then quantifies the total. This is my method of measuring the effectiveness of my day from a mental health standpoint.

Here’s one month of trends between number of tasks completed daily and quantified reflections:

Here I can see, Sunday March 4th was a huge day for tasks but not so great for reflections, but why is this?

Structuring out my morning bike ride, meal and blocking out heads down productive work was effective. I can also see which tasks specifically I’ve worked on and the majority were completed between 1–4pm that day.

I’m also seeing that my top reflection day was March 11, Sunday:

But what happened then? Looks like on my calendar, it involved a bunch of meetings with friends, mentors and side projects and then the end of the day involved a house party with a bunch of friends.

Now all this data is super raw at the moment, but I’m actively working on exploring better ways to leverage my daily usage of Meports in super actionable insights, ultimately maximizing my Flow State.

The flow state is truly magical. You are not thinking yet you are not dreaming. You are simply acting. It is almost like you are watching yourself do things.

“When there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.” — Bruce Lee

I’m working on figuring out which flow state and day maximization triggers to build into Meports. So far I am confident daily goals and reflections are huge factors.

Would love it if you could share with me what you believe would be valuable to bake into the dashboard. If you have yet to try it out, it’s free and super simple to use.

Product Manager, Software Engineer, Problem Solver https://ethansteininger.com

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