And all you need to know to skyrocket your productivity
This post is a sequel to my previous post "What's lack of focus costing you?"
In this article, I am going to focus on the crucial things to know about focus and on creative flow – what it is, how you can get into creative flow, and why you need to recover from it.
“When you can’t focus, you are not going to be able to get anything done!”
This is a reminder that multitasking is a myth and that it actually slows us down and lowers the quality of the work we produce.
Multitasking or lack of focus leads us into a vicious cycle:
Because you’re not getting anything done, your motivation is dropping rapidly, causing you to procrastinate and getting even less done. That, in turn, leads to worry, self-doubt and even depression.
But you can control whether you want to follow that direction or create a virtuous cycle where you are getting your stuff done, increase motivation which leads to getting even more done.
The better you can focus, the more you get done and the faster you reach your goals.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO BE MORE FOCUSED
Achieving better focus is relatively simple. You need to be clear on what you want to do and focus on.
If you are clear on your goals, you are not going to be overwhelmed and all over the place. This can happen quite easily when you find yourself with some free time on your hands but no plan. Suddenly you are facing so many options of what you could do, so that you cannot decide which tasks you want to focus on.
The result is that you focus and five different tasks – none of which you will finish.
All you have to do is plan in advance. Not in the morning but the evening before. The more specific, the better.
When you plan ahead, then you wake up in the morning refreshed, free up a lot of headspace, and your mind is already primed and pre-focussed.
And here’s how you can make focus a “habit”:
Now, with your focus time already scheduled – how can you get the most out of it?
OPTIMISE YOUR FOCUS TIME
How easy is it for you to be so absorbed by what you do that you forget about time, forget to eat, and blend out everything that’s going on around you?
It’s not always easy but when it happens, it’s magic. You get so much done and when you’re finished, you feel exhausted.
That state where you are totally absorbed in your tasks and where you are super productive, forgetting the world around you – is that state of creative flow.
That’s the state when our subconscious mind is processing information at hyper-speed. And for that our brain needs to be fresh and primed.
For most people, the best time for creative flow is in the mornings because the neurotransmitters in the brain that enable creative work, are charged up after a night’s rest.
However, some people work best in the evenings and you have to feel out what works best for you. When you find out what works for you then make a routine out of it and stick with it.
IT CAN BE A STRUGGLE TO GET INTO CREATIVE FLOW
Who hasn’t experienced the curse of the blank page? Writer’s block or the desperation when we just can’t get into the flow.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t do is to wait for flow to happen. The only way to get into creative flow is doing the work.
You might be suffering from writer’s block and not being able to even think about what to write and you might be scared that what you write is rubbish.
And with that you are right. 80-90% of what we write is rubbish and we just have to accept it. But this rubbish helps us to get into creative flow.
If you are a graphic designer, then just start up your computer and start a design – any design. If you are a writer, then start writing something, that could be journaling or something about a random thought that enters your mind. If you are a photographer, just go out and start taking pictures – you can delete the bad ones later.
Serge (you know him from part one of this series) told me that for most people the blank page carries a lot of weight. It represents emptiness and gets us stuck because we are worried that what we’ll write is going to be bad.
We just have to accept it and be ok with it to be bad. This is just for getting started and can be thrown out later. Just start writing, or “doing the work” – that’s the only thing that gets you into creative flow.
And never write and edit at the same time. Both activities are performed in different parts of the brain and you want the subconscious mind to be active for creative flow. That’s the part where you do the writing. The editing part is done in the rational part of our brain which interferes with your creative flow.
So – write first – edit later.
And now – here’s what Serge told me about the FLOW cycle – it’s all about neurotransmitters and changes in brain waves.
The most important thing that you have to understand is that you have to go through the entire cycle. You cannot force your way into FLOW, doing that can lock you out of your ability to reach a state of FLOW.
THE FOUR STAGES OF CREATIVE FLOW
The first phase of FLOW is called “STRUGGLE” phase. This can be a very frustrating phase because at that point your conscious brain hasn’t switched off. You are thinking all the time.
Your brains are processing information and your prefrontal cortex is super active in this phase. And with that – your inner critic is almost the most active. That’s why you are so scared of producing low quality stuff.
However, it’s important to understand that that is part of the process and why you just need to start doing the work. You just have to get through this phase and into the next phase.
This next phase is called the “RELEASE” phase. It is when you’re taking your mind off the problem. And there are ways of making it easier to enter the RELEASE phase.
Low grade physical activity does wonders. Taking a walk, taking a shower or performing routine activities that don’t need brain power are really good for that.
These low grade activities are really good at engaging multiple senses and that triggers the RELEASE phase. Doing repetitive work helps as well.
But be careful that this is not just about taking your mind of the activity that you ultimately want to perform. Not every activity is suitable to trigger the RELEASE phase.
Watching TV for example, is just going to fill your brain with input and won’t leave any space to come up with ideas.
So, if you take a walk for example, you’ll experience that ideas are suddenly coming out of nowhere. And for some people it works to go to a café and work there – novelty, complexity and unpredictability lead to an increase in dopamine in your brain and get your creative juices flowing.
What follows then is called the FLOW phase. This phase is absolutely magic.
Serge told me that FLOW is a state of consciousness where you feel best and perform best. And that is up to 500% better than when you’re not in FLOW.
That number is absolutely mind-blowing and explains why you are getting so much more done. Your subconscious mind can process multiple things at the same time – whereas your conscious brain can only process one thing at a time.
There are four FLOW characteristics that Serge pointed out to me:
Isn’t your brain amazing?
However, these are the characteristics of a full FLOW state. You cannot expect that every time you go into flow. But there’s no need to worry if you don’t tick all the boxes every time. There’s a state called MICRO FLOW. That’s the state when you are “in the zone” and work is just flowing.
Considering that your brain is running in “ludicrous mode” when you are in creative flow, you need to accept that there are certain limitations.
You can’t be doing this forever. At one point your brain has used up all its chemicals and your brain is depleted.
At this point, you are entering the RECOVERY phase. This is the phase where you rest and let your brain replenish the chemicals that fuel creativity.
It’s important to accept that at this point you have burned through all your brain chemicals. Just like an empty tank in your car. You need to fuel up or you won’t go anywhere.
It doesn’t make any sense to continue your creative work. You can do that after your brain has fuelled up again – but that takes a few hours.
Maybe you have noticed that when you are trying to force creativity after a FLOW phase that you’re not getting anywhere. You’re getting tired and start losing focus.
That’s the point where you need to start something different. Get up from your desk, stretch, take a walk, have a snack or do some work that doesn’t require much brain capacity – like filing.
So, this is also a good time to stop this article.
But if you want to read more - then read my next post: "Optimise yourself for creative flow"