Regardless of what you call it, everyone knows what it is like to work in the “zone.” It is the place where everything comes together easily. You are focused and sometimes it is easy to spend several hours without realizing the time is passing. Being in the “zone” is what you experience when you see that it is 3pm, you’ve been working since 9am and didn’t even realize you missed lunch.

So how do you create that mental zone? We asked a number of highly productive people:

What method do you use to keep yourself in your most productive mental zone?

One of the interesting things that stood out from everyone’s answers was that “the zone” means different things to different people. I usually think of being in “the zone” as streak of productive work lasting 4 to 8 hours with pretty no mental interruptions. But reading over the different perspectives made me realize that shorter period of times can be just as important–and if you wait of a 4 hour block of time to open up, it may never actually happen. So I was inspired to work on quickly achieving full concentration even if I only have 15 to 90 minutes.

Below are the suggestions and recommendations.

I have to exercise regularly; otherwise, I’m too jittery and can’t keep still in my chair. Also, I can’t let myself get too hungry. These very basic elements end up having a very large effect on my productivity level.
~ Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project

I’ve found the exercise thing is true along with sleep. I think they kind of go together because when I’m exercising I sleep better and when I sleep better I can get into the “zone” more easily.

Make sure my head is empty; when something comes flying into the forefront of my mind, I quickly capture it and do my best not to lose momentum with what I’m doing. This can’t always be executed perfectly, but being able to quickly dispatch a potentially distracting thought or notion is extremely effective in staying on track.
~ Brett Kelly

Good advice. One of the biggest barriers to getting into the “zone” is being peppered with a hundred ideas and thoughts–some of which are important enough you don’t want to forget them. Getting these written down quickly so you aren’t trying to mentally juggle them in your head can make a big difference.

Meditate. Drink a lot of green smoothies. Have 3 Important Things A Day to accomplish, the rest is a bonus.
~ Danielle LaPorte author of The Fire Starter Sessions

So what exactly is a green smoothy? The three most important things is a great tip.

I use a good ol’ kitchen timer to keep me focused. I’ll set it for 15 minutes or 20 minutes or however much time I’ve scheduled to work on an action item, and then work until the timer bings. When you see the minutes ticking down, it’s hard not to focus on what needs to get done.
~ Erin Doland from Unclutterer.com

The kitchen timer method is amazing in its simplicity and effectiveness. I use it particularly for things I keep starting but always get distracted from.

I always keep a running list of tasks and projects handy to refer to, so in case I get distracted I use it to get me back on track.
~ Monica Ricci from Catalyst Organizing, LLC

The simple act of writing down what you plan to do can help you feel more committed to executing your plan.

Establish a routine and stick with it. Regular physical exercise works wonders.
~ Chris from Manilla

If you can find a routine that lets you get into a highly productive zone, then you’ve found a very powerful thing. I wonder how many of us have routines that actively prevent us from getting into a highly productive state of mind?

Sometimes I listen to a tape that helps concentration. Mostly I just go “into the zone.”
~ Christine Ciandrini from Manilla

I sometimes listen to ocean, rain or river ambient sounds to stay focused. What is on your tape, Christine? Does anyone else have any suggestions for sounds that help them focus?

Work in hyper-focused bursts of no more than 90-minutes with short refueling windows of exercise, meditation, interaction and food.
~ Jonathan Fields from Good Life Project

When I’m in what I call the “zone” 90 minutes isn’t a very long period of time. However, this doesn’t happen all the time, and Jonathan has some very good advice. You can’t wait to get into the mental state where the rest of the world just melts away to get something done. You have to find methods that make you productive and then pay attention to what gets you the closest to your target mental state of mind.

Meditation is practice for being present, which helps me to get into Flow.
~ Leo Babauta from Zen Habits

This is an interesting suggestion. Exercises that help you keep you mind focused on what is at hand are going to be beneficial.

Switching contexts. If I find myself slipping a little or my mind wandering, I’ll change to a different but still important task in a different context.

For example, if I’m getting weary of writing, I’ll move away from the computer and do some household chore that needs to be done.
~ Glen Stansberry from Gentlemint

While you’ve got to be careful not to just let yourself procrastinate whenever you hit an obstacle, what Glen is describing goes along with the way our minds work. Some problems are very difficult to solve in our conscious mind and they require our unconscious efforts to make a break through. Doing something different can push the problem solving to your unconscious and give you a fresh perspective when you come back.

I like to break things down into small tasks that I mentally grasp. Thinking about the entire problem at hand leads me to not do anything.
~ Peter Krimmel from Manilla

Having a unit of work that allows you to shut out everything else and just execute is a powerful way to get stuff done.

The biggest thing I do is remove myself from a potentially distracting situation: being around friends, watching television, finding things to do in my apartment. If I really need to get something done, I will take the bare necessities (computer if it’s needed; otherwise, a notepad) down to a coffee shop where the only thing I can do is work.
~ Caroline Wright from Manilla

Our environment plays a big part in our ability to stay focused, but it is often the last thing we try to control.

I am conscious that I am most productive in the morning and I try to maximize that time. I have my coffee and toast and I am more than ready to tackle the day. I am also aware when I am tired and do not have the mental energy to be focused. I try to commit to completing something important when I am drained.
~ Beth Devin from Manilla

I find that I am most productive on different types of tasks at different times of day. I can program well late at night, but it is difficult for me to write at that hour. Finding what you do best when, is a very important part of maximizing your personal productivity.

Do you have a method for achieving full concentration on a task? Please share it in the comments.