The Flow State Boot Up Sequence
Today at a Glance
- The Boot Up Sequence is a fixed set of actions and environmental cues that mentally and physically mark the start of your work session. While it can be used for any work session, I find it particularly impactful and valuable in priming for a deep work session (daily focused work on the "most important thing").
- The Boot Up Sequence is built around the five senses: Touch, Taste, Sight, Sound, and Smell. Engaging each of these allows you to quickly and consistently enter your flow.
- If you aren't able to execute your full, ideal Boot Up Sequence, simply aim to nail 3 out of the 5 senses of the sequence. My experience suggests that 3 out of 5 is achievable under a variety of circumstances, and it's enough to create the mental and physical entryway into your flow.
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A few months ago, I wrote a piece about creating a power down sequence to separate your work from your personal life each evening. The idea was to create a fixed sequence of events that mentally and physically mark the end of your professional day (and your transition into your personal time).
I received hundreds of replies from readers who had implemented the strategy with great success—most had found real value in establishing a ritual around shutting down their professional mindset at the end of each day.
Around the time of that post, having seen the value of the power down sequence in my own life, I started experimenting with creating its mirror image: The Boot Up Sequence.
In today's piece, I'd like to talk about the Boot Up Sequence—what it is, why it will 10x your productivity, and how to build your own.
The Boot Up Sequence
If you're like me, when you turn on your computer, you stare at the screen impatiently while it loads to your home screen.
But under the surface, the computer is doing something very important: It's running a boot up sequence, which is simply a fixed set of operations that the computer performs when it is switched on to initiate and prepare the operating system for use. This sequence ensures the operating system is engaged appropriately and ready for the onslought of task processing that the user is likely to put it through during the upcoming session.
We are really no different than this computer—to function optimally as we process important tasks, we need to prime and prepare our operating system for use.
We need a Boot Up Sequence!
The Boot Up Sequence is a fixed set of actions and environmental cues that mentally and physically mark the start of your work session.
While it can be used for any work session, I find it particularly impactful and valuable in priming for a deep work session (daily focused work on the "most important thing").
The sequence becomes a doorway to the "flow" that we all want to enter.
An effective, repeatable Boot Up Sequence will allow you to 10x your productivity by enabling you to quickly and consistently enter your flow state and execute deep, focused work on your most important projects.
Let's talk about how to build your Boot Up Sequence (alongside an illustrative example of mine)...
The 5 Senses of the Sequence
When crafting my Boot Up Sequence, I decided to build it around the five core senses that would be engaged:
- Touch: What movement/body action you engaged in prior to start.
- Taste: What you're drinking, chewing on, or snacking on.
- Sight: What you see in your environment.
- Sound: What you hear in your environment.
- Smell: What you smell in your environment.
Using this simple framing, I built a Boot Up Sequence that looks like this:
- Touch: Prior to sitting down for a deep work session, I either (a) go for a 5-minute walk outside or (b) take a 3-minute ice bath. Both of these actions unlock my creative energy and prime my system.
- Taste: I always have a large black cold brew coffee (preferably Dunkin' Donuts!) that I will sip on prior to the start of the session and have next to me during the session. The caffeine helps, but it's mostly psychological, as I rarely finish the drink.
- Sight: My writing desk faces a window with dark walls on my sides, some plants, and neutral art.
- Sound: I listen to a Spotify playlist called Classical Essentials or an app called BrainWave Binaural Programs.
- Smell: I love the smell of wood, so my writing nook has cedarwood/sandalwood candles or oils. Both have been shown to help with focus.
I typically go through this sequence twice each day—once first thing in the morning (around 530am) when I start my first deep creative session and once in the afternoon after lunch when I start my second deep work session. Going through this sequence has become an incredibly effective routine that gets me into the appropriate state to enter my flow.
To build your sequence, sit down and walk through each of the five senses.
For each sense, think about a time when you were truly in flow: How was that sense engaged during (or before) that session? Write down all of the different ways these senses were engaged in prior periods of flow to give you a sense of the range of options at your disposal.
Select the option for each sense that is most actionable and repeatable. If you were in flow state while sitting at a cafe overlooking Positano, Italy while sipping $20 espresso, that's probably not repeatable (if it is, please trade lives with me!). If you were in flow state while sitting at your local coffee shop and listening to your favorite house track, that's probably quite repeatable.
Once you've established your actionable, repeatable options for each of the five senses, write down your full Boot Up Sequence. Until it becomes a habit, check the items off the list as you "boot up" for a deep work session.
The 3/5 Rule
In our perfect world, we establish this Boot Up Sequence and are able to do it every single day.
Unfortunately, we don't always live in our perfect world. Sometimes life gets in the way—maybe it's work or personal travel, family challenges, or something random that throws you out of your routine. The point is that we need a way to execute despite imperfect circumstances.
Enter my 3/5 Rule:
If you aren't able to execute your full, ideal Boot Up Sequence, simply aim to nail 3 out of the 5 senses of the sequence. My experience suggests that 3 out of 5 is achievable under a variety of circumstances, and it's enough to create the mental and physical entryway into your flow.
For example, say I'm on the road for an unexpected work trip that my boss forced me to take at the last minute. I'm in a hotel in the middle of nowhere and need to get an important presentation done.
There are several things that are clearly out of my control, but let's play by the 3/5 Rule:
- Touch: I probably can't do an ice bath, but I can definitely do a quick 5-minute walk outside to engage my body and get my creative energy flowing.
- Taste: I may not be able to get my favorite coffee, but I can definitely get some form of coffee (and pour it over some ice) to simulate it.
- Sight: My options are ugly wallpapered hotel room or crowded hotel lobby. Neither one is great.
- Sound: As long as I have my phone and headphones with me, I can hit the sounds.
- Smell: "Old Hotel Must" is not on the list of most successful perfumes for a reason.
Sight and Smell are out, but I am in control of Touch, Taste, and Sound. I have 3 out of 5 and am able to make it work. It's not my perfect Boot Up Sequence, but it's good enough.
The point of the 3/5 Rule is simple: It's not always going to be perfect, but if you focus on the controllables, you can make the most of every deep work session.
As I began working on my book project this year, I needed a way to consistently find my flow. The Boot Up Sequence has allowed me to quickly, and consistently enter that mode and produce higher quality output than I imagined possible.
If you're searching for a way to make more progress on your "most important thing", I'd encourage you to try building out and executing on a Boot Up Sequence. I'm confident it will become a cheat code in your arsenal.