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In a world of distractions there is nothing quite like a getting into a state of flow to be productive - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology). Unfortunately I reach the state less than I would like. Although I am luckily enough to have a job where I can explore interesting topics and technologies to my heart's content, I am far too often distracted before I am fully immersed in a topic.

Obviously one solution is to reduce the distractions, but are there ways of reducing the time it takes to get to 'flow'? Somebody* stated that it takes 15 minutes to get to a state of flow, is it possible to reduce this time?

*Apologies, 'Somebody' is an appalling reference, but I can't remember who...it does, however, seem a reasonable approximation.

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Children are very good at it especially when they play (from a book about focus). –  Mohamad Fakih Jul 18 '13 at 19:14
    
What type of work do you do? Also, there is some good advice here –  Raystafarian Jul 18 '13 at 21:04
    
I'm an academic researcher - so although there is some paper pushing drudgery, it is primarily work that is both interesting and I can take in the directions that I want. –  DPS Jul 19 '13 at 8:35
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3 Answers

Considering short bursts you may try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique. After you start using it you will acquire a habit of concentration during fixed periods of time. Nothing will distract you then because your motivation to concentrate will increase greatly.

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A long term solution is to increase the interest in the subject you want to flow with. If a question taxes your mind even when you perform daily life routines, then, when you sit down to work on it (e.g. mathematical, physical, programming question), you can easily flow in the work.

You can try to skim a reading about a topic, stop the reading, and start thinking about what you have read (how to apply it, how it relate to other topics, devise new questions and try to answer them etc). When you resume the reading or work, you should find it easier and faster to flow.

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So, in another words, how can get into a state of concentration, faster. It's similar to when you were studying for exams.

Concentration takes effort. This effort takes concentration. It is a cycle, that initially requires that mental momentum to get going. It is hard to keep up this momentum, especially when you're surrounded with distractions.

My suggestion:

Cut off distractions. TV? Put in trash, we don't need that. Phone? We don't need that, chuck down bridge. StackExchange? Block. Youtube? Block. Porn? Block. Facebook? Block. News? Block. Block block block.

Take your work in short bursts. Why short? - because concentration takes much energy, and so you need breaks! In these bursts, you must be committed to fully immerse yourself in your task. It requires commitment, yes, but also discipline. Take it slow, say... 15 minute bursts with 5 minute rests. And slowly increase the burst lengths.

During your short breaks, do something that won't fully take your mind off the work, or distract you. Say, just get up and stretch (i.e. no TV, no Youtube, no Facebook etc.) to a 5 minute song...

If you do this right, your 'mental momentum' of concentration will build up, and you'll get into the concentration zone.

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