- A flow state is a state of optimal performance and productivity that can be triggered by a domino habit, which is a daily ritual that makes the rest of your behaviors happen automatically.
- To find your domino habit, you need to identify your temporal landmarks, which are moments in your day that separate your past self from your future self and create a fresh-start effect.
- To stick to your temporal landmarks, you need to set six alarms on your phone that remind you to shift into the next phase of your day and stay on track to executing your domino habit.
Remember that day when you stumbled into a flow state and checked several big-ticket items off your to-do list? What if you could replicate that phenomenon every day? Neuroscientist Rian Doris explains how, during a tumultuous period of his life, he learned to manage his time and boost his productivity. Though Doris’s personal daily routine is unrealistic for most people – he wakes at 5:30 a.m. and immediately tackles focused work – you can emulate his smart method for finding a routine that optimizes your chances of excelling every day.
- To enter a flow state habitually, identify your “domino habit.”
- Discover your “temporal landmarks” – junctures within your day when you must shift what you’re doing to ensure you accomplish your domino habit.
- Set alarms to remind yourself of your temporal landmarks, reducing the mental burden of managing your time.
To enter a flow state habitually, identify your “domino habit.”
Does your productivity wax and wane? Maybe you occasionally achieve flow, but it happens somewhat serendipitously. Happily, you can teach yourself to enter a flow state more regularly and produce your best work more consistently.
“What’s the one daily habit that makes the rest of your behaviors happen automatically?”
Think of the times when you excelled. Can you identify a common thread that triggered those boosts of productivity? That factor, known as a “domino habit,” will differ for every person. A domino habit is a ritual that “results in the rest of your day being maximally efficient, productive and aligned.” Your domino habit might be, say, waking up at dawn, taking a cold shower, exercising in the morning, taking an afternoon nap or going to bed early at night.
Discover your “temporal landmarks” – junctures within your day when you must shift what you’re doing to ensure you accomplish your domino habit.
Yet even if you recognize your domino habit, you might not be motivated to hit it each day. If your domino habit is, say, to wake up at 5:30 a.m., you might be tempted to stay up late at night, hit the snooze button in the morning or lie in bed while scrolling on your phone. To bypass this tendency, insert “intraday temporal landmarks” throughout your day. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, a temporal landmark is a distinguishing milestone or moment in time that produces a “fresh-start effect” – for instance, New Year’s Day, birthdays or Monday mornings. The fresh-start effect has the power to trigger “behavioral consistency.”
“Temporal landmarks serve as markers in time that separate our past selves from our future selves.”
You can artificially replicate the fresh-start effect several times each day. Map out your day, and identify all the temporal landmarks in the 24-hour period preceding your domino habit that collectively ensure you accomplish your domino habit. For instance, if achieving peak performance hinges on an early start, perhaps you need to be asleep by 9 p.m. To be asleep by 9 p.m., perhaps you need to finish eating by 6 p.m. To finish eating by 6 p.m., perhaps you need to wrap up work by 5 p.m., and so on. Reverse engineer your day to identify the daily milestones that enable you to execute your domino habit every day. Restrict your temporal landmarks to no more than six per day; a greater number makes the system overly rigid and unwieldy, interrupting the natural flow of your day.
Set alarms to remind yourself of your temporal landmarks, reducing the mental burden of managing your time.
Set a daily alarm on your phone for each temporal landmark you’ve identified. When the alarm sounds, shift into the next phase of your day to stay on track to executing your domino habit. Sometimes you’ll fail to transition to the next phase, or you’ll miss your domino habit. Happily, you have six opportunities to get back on track each day.
“Each alarm is a turning point in your day, a moment when you pivot from one activity to another that keeps you on track to hit that domino habit – the one habit that, if done, autocorrects your behavior.”
Occasionally, an alarm will disrupt you in the midst of a flow state, and exiting it may seem counterproductive. But if you work hard to heed your alarms and protect your domino habit, you’ll soon notice your overall productivity and performance rising, and entering a flow state will become a more common occurrence. Automating your time management removes the onus of keeping track of time from your working memory. By outsourcing your time management to alarms, you become more present, enhance your focus, reduce procrastination and improve your decision-making, all of which help you find flow.
This time-management framework is akin to using a GPS to guide you on a road trip rather than memorizing directions by rote: Your domino habit is the destination, the temporal landmarks are the turns you need to take to keep you on route to your goal, and the GPS’s voice is the alarms reminding you of which way to turn. By outsourcing guidance to your GPS, you are empowered to focus on what matters: driving to your destination.
About the Speaker
Rian Doris is the co-founder and CEO of Flow Research Collective, a research and training institute that studies the neuroscience of flow states.