How to Make Each Minute Count: Studying, Focus, and the Art of Flow


4 min read

Life often feels like a race against the clock. Whether you're striving for success in academia or your career, getting the most out of your time is crucial. Remember the movie Interstellar where an hour on one planet equals seven years on Earth? Wouldn't it be amazing if we could manipulate time in our favor as well?

In this post, I delve into how we might harness the power of our brain to make every minute count. Can we, in essence, slow down time and make every hour of work equivalent to three? Let's find out.

The Illusion of Linear Time

Our perception of time is not a constant factor. Its passing feels different for different people and in different situations — an hour could feel like a minute or a decade, depending on the circumstances. This time distortion has been largely attributed to an invisible force – mental energy or brain power. This brings us to our crucial question: Can we control our mental energy to slow down time?

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Contrary to the common adage, 'Work Harder', it might pay off to work smarter instead. Overworking may not necessarily translate into better results, whereas working strategically and effectively can save energy and achieve a higher yield. A principle known as "the law of reversed effort" aptly explains this paradox.

As per the law of reversed effort, striving too hard to achieve something may result in the opposite effect — failure. For instance, we've all experienced those nights when the harder we try to sleep, the wider awake we seem to stay. This seemingly counter-productive phenomenon implies that a strategic, rather than forceful, approach to tasks or learning can lead to more fruitful results.

Brain Power and Time Distortion

Time distortion is affected by our mental energy or brain power, hence focusing it effectively is the key. Brain power differentiates from productivity, as it persists as a constant entity within each day, unlike the latter which can fluctuate. At the beginning of the day, we usually feel more energized and focused, with the effect waning as the day progresses. Expanding our brainpower strategically by focusing on our most important tasks early in the day is profoundly beneficial.

This technique is particularly effective because it utilizes the quiet hours of the day when our minds are not swamped with daily stressors. The prefrontal cortex — the rational part of our brain — is quieter during the early hours, reducing the chance of over-analyzation and stress. This facilitates the spontaneous, fluent state of focus, famously referred to as the 'Flow State'.

"Work less and achieve more by capitalizing on your early morning brain power!"

Harnessing the Flow State

The Chinese philosophy of Taoism dubbed this tranquil state of mind as 'Wu Wei', an 'effortless action'. In the Western world, it's known as the 'Flow State'. In this serene mental state, we are so engrossed in our task that time 'slows down' and minutes pass by like seconds.

Some people enter the Flow State when painting, dancing, or doing sports-- for me, it occurs during my programming projects, where it feels as though the program is writing itself!

Below are some techniques to induce the Flow State:

  1. Eliminate distractions: Distractions can be detrimental to attaining the flow state; one glance at a notification can take about 15-20 minutes to refocus! 'Deliberate Distraction' is an effective method to curb this hindrance— setting designated 'distraction periods' can greatly help.

  2. Set artificial deadlines: Parkinson's Law tells us that a task expands to fill the time we allot it. Setting carefully designed time frames for your tasks can prompt the flow state.

  3. Choose the right tasks: Irrelevant tasks can hamper concentration; thus, choosing tasks that desire your complete attention is crucial.

The Power of Active Recall

Mastering how to enter the flow state enables us to learn faster, but how do we remember what we've learned? The answer lies in active recall.

Active recall comprises consciously trying to remember what we've absorbed. We can achieve this by writing down the questions we've answered during our learning process and subsequently revisiting them, or by teaching our learnings to someone else—a method known as the Feynman Technique.

This post provides a glimpse into maximizing productivity and learning coding through efficient techniques. Remember, it's always about working smart, not hard.

Master these techniques and seize control over your time and productivity. Remember, time may be a constant, but how you utilize it is in your hands. Happy studying and coding!