Imagine you are a runner about to take part in a 200 meter dash. There is a lot going on in your mind as you stand at the starting line along with the other competitors. Your heart is throbbing and your palms are sweating. But as soon as the starting whistle blows, every thought slides out of your mind and every step you take follows naturally from the previous one, much like the notes of jazz music.
The experience of being totally immersed in an activity is called, according to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the ‘flow state’. Research conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile shows that flow state helps people become more productive, increase their creativity and helps them lose inhibitions that limit their comfort zones.
Step 1: Find the right amount of challenge in your work
When you are working on some task, it is very easy to lose focus or get distracted by intrusive thoughts when the job you have is too easy or too challenging. You should strive to search for a healthy challenge in whatever you attempt to do. If the work you have on hand is too simple, it will lead to boredom, but a task too difficult would stimulate anxiety. You should, as much as your position allows, consciously choose tasks that increase your chances of achieving flow.
Step 2: Take control of your emotions
Emotions have the power to make or break our mental state. While you have little control of the actions of world at large, you can control how you react to it via your emotions. The most important ability in controlling your own emotions is being honest about what you feel and why you are feeling it. Once you identify the emotions and label them accordingly, they become more tangible and less mysterious. This helps you to relax, figure out what’s behind your emotion, and move forward. Trying to stifle emotions without addressing them properly might seem like a good strategy but it only impairs your focus.
Step 3: Take Breaks
While we often try to sit at our desks or lock ourselves inside rooms to get done with a large amount of work, it is well-studied that sitting still for long hours is counter-productive. Our brains and bodies simply aren’t made for extended periods of work. Research has shown that the most productive work cycle tends to consist of forty-five minutes of continuous work, followed by fifteen minute of break. Therefore, try and take several short breaks throughout the day to maintain the optimal focus on your work.