Yesterday and today could not have been more different.
Yesterday, I wasted the day away with distractions and inefficient use of time. Today, I finished everything I wanted to do and more.
The difference, I believe, was clear within the first 2 hours of both days.
The first hour of both days were identical, as I've started a 1 hour meditation practice after waking up.
In the next hour, the tone was set.
Yesterday, I started by checking email - the gateway drug to endless distraction. And then I followed that with breakfast.
Today, I started work almost immediately after meditation. I glanced at my task tracker for just a moment to regain clarity on what I was going to do, and started breaking down the task in my head. After responding to a couple quick messages, I was able to chip away. I delayed breakfast for two hours.
I was speaking with a friend today and he mentioned a term I had almost forgotten about - flow. Years ago, the idea blew my mind. If I could get into a flow state more often, that would change everything!
And like all new ideas, it vanished with the news cycle. 3 months later, the amount of time I spent in flow state didn't change.
But just the sheer mention of the term by my friend today brought that idea back into the spotlight. It was time to figure out how to get myself into flow.
Previously, I've written about metawork. It's the idea that if everything is created twice (once in your mind and once in reality).
In my life, I have found this to be true: if I don't do the metawork before the work, I often find myself bumbling around. It's a miracle that progress eventually gets made, but the quality of the work is low, and the efficiency is poor.
One connection I had previously missed was the connection between metawork, clarity, and flow states.
I'm now realizing that metawork is a necessary condition to getting into flow because it provides your clarity.
There are a lot of triggers that can put you into a flow state, but I believe the most important one is focus. In order to focus, however, you must know what you are focusing on. In other words, the object of your focus must be clear.
When you know exactly what you need to do next, so much anxiety and stress seems to fade. It's as if the universe says, "Ok, so let's get that done and then re-evaluate".
Sometimes, the difficulty is not that you don't have a clear goal, but that the goal is too far out. Your goal today might be to write a chapter in your novel, but if you're struggling to write a single page, that goal might be counter productive.
This might be obvious for those who have studied the flow state diagram:
When you make goals too ambitious and unrealistic, you put yourself in an anxiety inducing scenario.
A great hack is to find the smallest celebration worthy milestone you can set for yourself and chase the small win.
For software: Instead of making the entire feature work, we should make sure our components talk to each other end to end first.
For writing: Instead of writing a chapter, make an outline. Or try turning off your monitor and just brainstorming whatever ideas come to mind.
Whatever you're trying to do, there is almost always a less ambitious version. Figure out what that is and consider starting there. A quick win under your belt will push you into flow.
I'm currently learning more about flow states. This time, guided by the idea that you haven't learned something until it's driven behavior change, I plan to implement some combination of tactics to improve the likelihood of reaching flow.
I might never quite reach that state consistently, but I do believe the following items helped me out today:
I've picked up the book Stealing Fire, and I hope to learn a few things from that.
I hope this post helped you think about focus and good luck with getting into flow!