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Flow state

Mads Brodt • February, 2022

3 min read

You know that feeling when you're working on something, but whatever you do, you just can't manage to stay focused? You get distracted after every line of code, you don't make any progress, and your task just seems insurmountable?

We've all been there. I just call it Monday, personally.

Jokes aside, it's not a great feeling. Unfortunately it's very common, especially among developers. We've got the entire internet at out fingertips day in, day out, so it's hard not to open a quick Twitter or Youtube tab when the code feels unmanageable.

I know I've struggled with this, and still do sometimes. But I got tired of this constant feeling of "unproductive-ness" and set out to discover the root cause and, more importantly, how to combat it.

Funny thing is, you're probably familiar with the polar opposite of this feeling too: When you enter "flow" state. When you "get in the zone". In this state, you feel your productivity skyrocket. You hammer away at tasks like it's nobody's business, and before you know it, an entire day has passed and you've gotten everything done you set out to do.

Flow is actually a psychology concept where you become so immersed in your activity that you reach a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment (yes, that's from Wikipedia). Sounds amazing, right?

So the question then becomes - how can we learn to enter flow "on demand"? Or at least, what measures can we take to help our brains reach this magical wonderland where dreams come true?

I ended up with this very simple framework to enter flow state that I'm positive can help you too, so I wanted to share it. It goes like this:

  1. Leave your phone in another room (or anywhere out of reach). Seriously. Phones are productivity killers numero uno, so physically removing them from your grasp is the easiest way to short-circuit your brain and prevent you from pulling it up out of habit.
  2. Remove all other distractions . Put on noise cancelling headphones. Disable desktop notifications. Quit your Slack / email software for a while. While your phone is the easiest way to get distracted, a loud sound or big red notification dot is right up there with it.
  3. Break the problem down. It's impossible to get in the zone if you don't know exactly what you're working on. So if your task is so large that you don't know where to start, begin by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks that can each be completed in a single sitting.
  4. Use a Pomodoro timer. The Pomodoro technique is a classic where you work undisturbed for a short period of time (usually 25-30 minutes), and follow each period up with a short (5 minute) break. This might seem counterintuitive to flow state, but the breaks help you stay focused when it's time to work - because you know there'll be time to check out that funny cat video soon enough. I use the BeFocused app for Mac, but any online Pomodoro timer will do.

These are the 4 rules I use to help get myself in the zone when it's time to get meaningful work done. And they honestly work wonders. I suggest you try it out if you're struggling with productivity or find yourself easily distracted - and let me know how it goes!

I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on LinkedIn or check out my newsletter

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