Ever find yourself in flow state(being in the zone) and then something comes up to pull you out of it? Most often it’s by our own design. We structure our lives in a way where flow state is limited, so our results are too, as an accidental byproduct.
In this article I’m going to share why hyperfocus is so important, and give you an idea to help increase the amount of time you spend in flow state.
What is flow state?
Flow 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. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Most people’s lives are set up in a way where it’s difficult for them to even get into flow. They work on things they don’t like, get distracted a lot, and the occasions where they are in flow, they have something on their schedule that will interrupt it.
Why does this matter? In short, because flow state, or being in the zone is directly tied to your success, and your happiness. So, when you limit flow, you’re limiting your own success and happiness.
When you limit flow, you’re limiting your own success and happiness
As you know I like to integrate things into my life that make success and happiness easier. Want to know one interesting way that I do this?
I don’t cap flow.
I know what you’re thinking, “what does that even mean Billy?”
Well, I set up my life in a way where the times I’m in flow state, I maximize the time that I’m able to stay in it.
If you already follow my blueprints for how to achieve goals and how to set goals even if you don’t know what you want, then a side effect of that is you’ll already have a decent structure in place for getting into flow state.
But I want to share a simple flow hack that’s much easier than what everyone else tries to do. So many people are obsessed with how they can get in flow state more often, and all the tips and tricks that might help them get in the zone easier.
A much easier strategy to being in the zone more and maximizing flow state, is just not to pulling yourself out of it once you’re already in. Seems obvious but almost no one does it.
Let me show you what I mean.
Here’s a personal case study of extreme hyperfocus I shared with the Incubator a couple months back:
Results that can be achieved with extreme hyperfocus
Over the last month or so I’ve been slowly eliminating things on my to do list. Basically, trying to have as little as possible to do, so that all my time only goes towards doing what I want to do.
The last week or so I’ve been sick, so not only did I not have much on my to do list because of my elimination spree, but I also didn’t go out at all, didn’t go to the gym, etc… Basically all I did was write. The results:
2,172 word blog post
3,919 word blog post
2,447 word blog post
3,522 word blog post
2,268 word blog post
1,462 word half written blog post
This doesn’t include a handful of other 2-300 word notes/ideas I wrote down on other topics. I might have written close to 18,000 words on the week.
Now, if you’ve been a ForeverJobless reader for a while, you know I’m a relatively slow writer. However, with extreme hyperfocus, pretty absurd results were possible.
Now, I can’t not do anything all the time, but this is a good example of what’s possible with extreme hyperfocus, in a very short period of time.
So, maybe it’s writing, or finding a good supplier, or vetting out a business idea, or whatever it may be for you- if you tried eliminating everything else even just for a brief period, you would amaze yourself.
It’s in large part due to flow state.
Do not cap flow, and you will find the results from being in the state of flow for a longer period of time significantly more beneficial even if the only thing you changed was not capping flow.
How did hyperfocus allow me to get into a state of flow?
With something like writing, a lot of the time is figuring out what to write, then jotting down some ideas, starting to write some, and then a lot of times you’re already on to the next task before you really get anything great going. Then next time you come back you’ve got to figure out what you were writing, and try and get re-engaged with where you were trying to go, start brainstorming again, etc… If you’re lucky enough to hit a flow state, you cap it by jumping to your next task and starting the process all over the next time.
With the example above, I literally did nothing except eat, sleep and write. Whenever I reached the state of flow, results came very fast. Before being in the zone, they came very slow. For example, sometimes the first hour or two I had a couple crappy paragraphs, but then magically 3,000 words appeared on the page- that’s because of flow state.
When you have no other distractions, your mind will constantly figure out solutions to what it is you’re trying to do. Flow state is right around the corner. If instead you have things constantly pulling you away, either before flow comes, or when you’re in the state of flow, your amount of time in flow state is significantly impacted.
Flow takes time to reach. So why would someone want to limit flow state? Well, it’s not that you want to limit it, but setting meetings and calls at times you may be in flow unintentionally takes you out of flow state, day after day.
Remember my simplified schedule I shared in how to set goals:
- 4:30 wake up
- 5:00 writing
- 9:30 main task
- 10:15 gym
- 12:30 other tasks, entertainment, or more writing
- 8:00 read in bed
- 8:30 sleep
You’ll notice I don’t have things like “calls”, “meetings” or any set schedule activities right after my priority goal task. You may remember time blocking from The One Thing, where you don’t schedule anything during your time block so that you can give focus to your main goal. Well, I take it to the extreme and don’t even schedule anything after my time block.(the things after it are simply delayed if I’m in flow state)
The reason is so that the times when my time block is up and I’m in flow state, I just keep going. I remain hyperfocused. There’s no alarm. There’s no pressing things I need to get to. There’s just flow, or no flow. Hyperfocus, or unfocused. If I’m not in flow state, I just go about my day after my time block is done. When I am in flow state, I keep going. Everything else gets pushed back until I’m no longer in the state of flow.
If I do have any calls or meetings, I always schedule them much later in the day so that there’s no chance a potential flow state is interrupted.
What is something that would allow you to make significant progress right now?
What do you think would happen if the only thing you did was not capping flow state once you reach it?
I know you might be thinking, “but I have too much on my daily schedule”.
I understand you can’t just block everything else out of your life if you’ve got a tight schedule already. Some of you have jobs, families, and other obligations. That’s okay. Here’s what I recommend:
- Do your best to limit the amount of scheduled activities immediately after your time block period. So for example if your time block is in the morning, try not to schedule morning meetings directly after. If it’s in the afternoon, don’t force yourself to go run errands at a certain time, or some other task that doesn’t need to be done at a specific time. May not be milk in your fridge, will be massive flow happening!
- Pick a certain number of days you can block everything out and do nothing else. Go rent a cabin for a long weekend, or do something as simple as hanging in the library for a day.
You will likely get more done during this period than you could have if you had 5x the days, because you’ll spend 5x of your time in flow. Flow is where the best work happens. Days you can completely eliminate any distractions allow you to be hyperfocused.
Now, if you’re a really busy person, I know it sounds too simple and not to sound dismissive, but I’d recommend trying not to be so busy. Look at the things you do each day and ask yourself if are really getting major life benefits from all of them, or if they’re acting as more of a distraction from the things that would get you major life benefits. Now, ask the same question if you were in flow state for the goals you want to achieve.
What benefits am I getting from my list of to-do items?
What benefits would I possibly achieve from spending that time in flow state for my priority goal?
The upside of being in flow state longer will often significantly outweigh the downside of not getting some of your to-do list done.
The writing example I shared was just one example.
I usually have a don’t cap flow rule when I’m pursuing a goal, I just didn’t have a term for it before.
I did the same thing with my podcast. It helped me get over 58,000 downloads my first month with a very tiny audience at the time. I wasn’t even spending more than an hour or two usually, but the days I did reach flow I would just keep going and script many episodes in a row, where if I had capped flow state, I wouldn’t have been able to.
When I had fitness as my priority goal, I would go to the gym first thing in the morning, and not plan anything after. So I could take my time in my workout and be in flow state. It was literally impossible not to make significant improvements because I was there every day, and never in a rush to leave. There was no possibility for something to distract me from it, or cause my workouts to be rushed and less than optimal. Hyperfocus. Guaranteed flow state. Results were a guaranteed, expected byproduct of not only time blocking it first thing in the morning, but not capping flow state when I was there.
If you just commit to yourself to having zero distractions for limited time periods, you will achieve life changing results in a very small period of time.
The goal is hyperfocus. It will lead to flow state. Embrace the flow. Do not cap it.
You will be surprised at the results you will achieve if you will just test extreme hyperfocus with your goal.
No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. – Seneca
Being in flow is +ev. Especially if in flow while working on your priority goal. Do not cap flow state. Cap time needed for activities that do not bring you flow state, so you have more time for priority goals and/or activities that bring you into the state of flow. Stopping flow to work on unessential activities is goal achieving/flow state producing suicide. Flow leads to places for growth. Growth leads to happiness. If you cap flow state, you unintentionally limit your own happiness.