Make a playlist of all-time favourites and use it as a barrier to outside noise and a short cut to flow
I am used to working in noisy environments, i.e. trading rooms where there is always at least one loud TV set on (with utterly useless talking heads commenting exactly everything with the same enthusiasm and strained voices). In addition to the TV, my colleagues comment on the same thing or talk on the phone with analysts, strategists and brokers - all too loud to make themselves heard in the cacophony of meaninglessness.
Twenty years of that madness has honed my skills of focusing and achieveing flow. The last few years, however, I have had to utilize more tangible tricks to shield myself from the noise.
I have a list of songs that I have listened to hundreds, if not thousands of times. These are some of my absolute all-time favourites, but since I know them inside out I can choose whether to pay attention and really enjoy them, or simply let them form a loud background sound that is so ingrained in me that I don't even hear it, and which nothing else can penetrate. In practice, I just put my fully covering high quality ear phones on and start my playlist. The songs have to be extremely familiar. You are not supposed to listen to them or enjoy them, they are just there to be loud enough to drown out everything else.
I'm not sure this qualifies as a life hack. To me it just happened, since I tend to listen to my favourite tunes over and over again anyway, often forgetting I am listening already a few seconds in, and then realizing just at the end that I "missed" the song and have to start it all over again to be able to enjoy it.
Anyway, as it is, I have a list of quite slow, melodious and easy-listening songs that I can put on repeat and "listen" to for an entire day without paying attention to neither the songs nor my environment. I quickly become fully immersed in this active silence of familiar sounds.
Just the other day I was pressed to write two official documents in just a couple of days. That kind of intellectual work is almost impossible to do when 10 different sound sources blare chaotically from every direction. Thanks to my playlist of non-listening music I achieved a state of flow almost immediately and during two approximately 3-hour epsiodes of flow, I finished way ahead of my deadline.
When I start the playlist, the first thing that happens is that it feels like coming home after a long trip. It feels safe, familiar and "soft" somehow. After only a few seconds I forget about the music, I almost go deaf, and my field of vision narrows, and I just feel sharper and more capable of constructive and complex hierarchical and bilateral thought.
I really can't recommend people to try to copy this, unless you already practice it. However, I do recommend paying attention to what induces flow for you. If you already use music, but perhaps "new" or "popular" songs, your current favourites, I urge you to try older songs, your all-time favourites instead of newer ones.
I use this "technique" at home or at the office when I want to read and write and perhaps synthesize a lot of information and ideas and explain concepts to others in writing. When I want to assimilate and integrate exciting new research in podcast form I always walk instead. Research unambiguously show that the brain goes into learning mode when the body is moving by itself at a leisurely pace. I definitiely find it easier to focous, listen actively, silently repeat what I hear and actually remember new concepts and findings from a science podcast when walking than when sitting still.
GOTH (cut-my-own-wrists music)