6 Ways to Get in the Zone

Jun 22, 2011

“You’re ability to get things done is directly proportional to your ability to relax.”
David Allen

Do you know how to get in the zone? If you watched the US Open golf tournament, you saw an amazing performance by a 22 year old phenom, Rory McIlroy. It was an awesome display of ruthless execution and laser-sharpe focus. The part I found most impressive was the rhythm McIlroy exuded. It was as if he was in a flow state the entire tournament. He walked the same in between shots; his reactions were very similar after each shot. Even the way he twirled the club after a perfect shot (which he had a lot of). We can all learn a valuable lesson here. Rory seemed relaxed all four days. As I stated, he also had the focus of a champion. Performance, especially at an optimal level, is very much related to your ability to relax and to focus.

David Allen talks a lot about this ability to relax to attain “mind like water” state as we perform at work and in life. It takes time to learn this. At first you may know what you have to do, but the execution is a whole other story.

To get from “renting” this flow state to “owning” it, here are some tips I’ve learned throughout the years:

  1. Have a plan – GTD at its core. The more concrete and up to date your plan is (i.e. Your goals/projects/actions), the more flow you’ll experience.
  2. Work in increments – I talk about this often. Time yourself – work in chunks. 30 minutes on, five minute break. Or, find what’s right for you.
  3. Take breaks and disconnect – Jack Nicklaus used to turn his brain off in between shots and focus on something other than golf. I have a feeling Rory was doing the same. Jim Loehr talks about this in The Power of Full Engagement when he first studied tennis players. The one’s who had consistent rituals in between points allowed themselves to get back to this flow state when the new point started.
  4. Focus when necessary – Rory was focused when he had to be. Each shot. He got up, didn’t waste time and executed. Channel this when you need to get after something. My soccer coach in college used to say that once you get inside the chalk line at practice, everything changes. It’s okay to goof around and turn your focus elsewhere, but once on the field, you’re focused. I liken this to sitting at my desk. That’s why I get up to take breaks every 30 minutes or so.
  5. Leverage momentum – When you’re banging out tasks, keep going. Soon, one task turns into five and then ten. Next thing you know, you’re executing and making things happen. This is flow at its finest. My Cross fit workouts are a perfect example. It’s a set workout and you’re working out for a certain amount of time. You go from one rep or exercise to another, leveraging the prior one to execute the next one. There’s no thinking involved, it’s instinctual. You just go.
  6. Breathe – Breathing is something we all need to observe more. My normal breathe gets pretty short, especially my out breathe. This causes stress. Try extending your breathing. A simple 2 minute exercise is breathing in for five seconds, holding your breathe for five seconds and breathing out for five seconds. You will notice a more relaxed feeling. When in the zone, you will typically have a lower heart rate. This is simply attributed to being more relaxed as you perform.

If you ask anyone that’s been in this flow state, whether it’s an athlete or knowledge worker, they will tell you that time stood still. The more you can get into this state while working, the more productive you will be. Notice when you can’t get into this state. Maybe it’s a task or project that you’re really not committed to. Maybe you should work on something else. Of course, there’s times you just have to gut through some tasks that are must do’s. Find what your 80/20 projects are and spend as much time as you can on those. That’s where you experience relaxed productivity. For me, it’s business development projects/tasks at work and it’s writing when it comes to 1440. I try to spend 80% of my time on these.

Think about this – what have you done that’s makes time stand still? Find more ways to spend your time in those types of environments. This is the key to optimal performance at work/life.

Leave a comment and let everyone know what experiences you’ve had in the zone. Thanks for reading! 


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