To produce at optimal levels, you need to work with full concentration on a single task for extended periods free from distraction.
Research shows that with any work-time interruption, a stop-by visit, a phone call, even that little chirp notifying of a text will disrupt productivity. On average, it takes forty-three seconds after the interruption to return to prior levels of efficiency. Every “quick peek” costs more than the time we are staring at the screen. Even checking notifications to see that the high school friend whose posts you never read because of their political bent liked that last selfie on Instagram (granted, it was hilarious), can break up that coveted space of artists, writers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and producers alike: flow.
This is not to claim that technology is dampening the fires of our potential. In countless ways it increases communication and the dispersal and retrieval of information. There is no comparison to the access it provides.
Perhaps you are thinking that it doesn’t take you that long, or that you can effectively multi-task without compromising either task. Though, remember even the fastest microprocessor can only manage one task at a time. Their speed comes in being able to switch between tasks at unprecedented rates. Also, most modern computers have more than one processor. But our brains do not. As long as we would long for Intel to slip a quad core into our frontal lobe, alas, we must grapple with the attention we have. But there are ways to maximize your attention and the rapid return to a determined task.
It is true that your most enjoyable (and possibly best) work will come from the flow where work seems effortless. Just as it is true that flow comes from being able to focus. Focus can only exist in the absence of other distractions. Some with a Bruce-Lee type willpower might be able to disregard any distraction, but for the rest of us, there is hope. And there is practice.
The ability to focus is a skill we can develop and strengthen. As your practice increases, you will find greater ability to engage focus, enjoy deep concentration, and be fully prepared for flow to arrive more often. Focus is no different than any other muscle. It takes time at the focus gym, repetitions, increasing resistance, and a mindful practice to build true strength. To help maximize flow in your life, here are three quick tips to get your focus muscles pumping:
1. Set a Timer
Also known as Time-Blocking. This seems like an easy step, and one that many will write off because they have a clock in front of them. However, neurologically watching the clock and waiting for a sound to signal completion are different. The former takes up space within the secondary function and will disrupt primary consciousness with its reminders and anticipation of when the set time is over. Waiting for a timer, on the other hand, allows an external operative to herald your completion. No other process of time-management will threaten your ability to do work that really matters.
Note: This is most effective if the timer is set away from the hand’s or eye’s reach. Also, set a unique task sound to alert of your completion, and always use that for time-blocking. This will further instill the habit loop reward cycle.
2. Turn Off Notifications
Without looking at the screen to see who just texted, or what reminder an app sent you, the mere sound of a pending notification will disrupt focus. The notification alert prompting us to look at the screen and receive a bit of information is a well-worn habit loop. The alert, while consciously ignored, stimulates your secondary function to fill in the missing information which will continue to run different possibilities until the solution is proffered. Cutting these out allows your secondary function to only receive stimulation from your project at hand. It is best to keep all focus aligned; after all, a split mind, is a distracted mind.
Note: There are ways to employ your secondary function into helping your primary focus. We will discuss those techniques in other posts. Follow for more. Or you can join the Facebook Group and we’ll alert you when new articles are available.
3. Don’t Do ANYTHING Else
It is easy to lose focus because of other opportunities for productivity. Just as it is easy to justify digressions which are related. But that is all they are: digressions. Only focus on the tasks which result in production. If writing is your goal, then don’t get sidelined into research, or inspiration, or organization. Those are all important facets to writing and valuable ways to use your time. But they are not the same as writing time. If you need more research, time-block a space for research. Writing space is about writing.
You may find the impulse during your time-blocked painting, or web programming, or candle making to refresh yourself with what trends are there, or what past masters have done, or to figure out one technique. This will feel like productivity to your brain. And it is beneficial and necessary to join the current conversation of your art. However, time getting ready for flow does not equal flow. If your art has different aspects which all must be accomplished, that is great. But give each task its due time and allow that time to be dedicated.
There. That is all it takes to begin increasing flow in your work-life.
There are no activities which can guarantee flow, but there are those which can foment its arrival. It is as Picasso says, “The muse may find you, but she must find you working.”
The next time you set about your craft or sullen art, remember this pattern. Productivity is a direct result of spending time being productive. And focus will drive the core of production. Believe me, your art will thank you!
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To Your Flow,