How to be in Flow at Work

Ever found yourself immersed in an activity such that you’re oblivious to your surroundings and lose track of time? Even social media notifications go unheard! This is often described as being "in the zone," where you feel like your best self and perform at your peak level. Well, that’s the “flow state.” Let’s dive into what it is, why it is essential, and how to harness the power of flow at work.

What it means to be in flow…

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-American psychologist, popularized “flow” as a state of heightened focus and total involvement, where one can give his/her best to the task at hand.

It’s a state of timelessness, where the distracting mental chatter disappears, the mind and body are in perfect harmony, and there’s no conscious barrier between the doer and the thing being done. Everything effortlessly merges in these moments of pure, all-encompassing focus. Thoughts and actions unify, leading to peak performance, leaving you with a feeling of deep joy and satisfaction.

Why flow at work is essential…

This state is not exclusive to artists and athletes but something that every individual has access to. Whether it’s a creative activity, exercise, hobby, or work, it is possible to experience the flow state and accomplish more.

A 10-year-long McKinsey study reveals top executives were 5X more productive when in flow. Imagine what that means for overall workplace productivity! Given that we spend 50% of our waking hours at work, wouldn’t it be wonderful to go about our professional tasks effortlessly and even enjoy them?

A deep sense of fulfilment of a job well done is not the only outcome. When in the flow state, it’s easier to get more work done in less time, steer clear of distractions, and be in the here and now. It’s an absolute Zen state where there’s clarity of thought and creativity flows. Your actions are intuitively guided, not effort-driven, ultimately leading to actual productivity.

Busyness and productivity are quite different. You can be busy all day answering emails, attending calls, and chit-chatting with colleagues in the name of brainstorming. But none of that helps you strike off items on your to-do list. It’s when you get down to completing those critical projects that you’re being productive. And uninterrupted focus is the way to achieve that.

How can we be in flow at work?

Now, the question is, do we wait for the flow state to happen, like we wait for miracles to happen? Fortunately, flow is not elusive or mysterious; it’s just an optimal state of mind that we can tap into as often as we like and even make it routine! Let’s explore how.

Some prerequisites to ease into the flow state:

  1. Take care of your body: Eat healthy food to stay energized and alert, which is essential for being in the flow.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Insufficient water can lead to headaches or fatigue, and other health issues.
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Ensure a good night’s sleep

To get into the flow state, the task should be relatively easy and familiar. A repetitive and mechanical task that is very easy allows the mind to wander, and a difficult task that doesn’t match your skill set will deter you from even starting it, let alone getting into the flow.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, in a 1986 New York Times interview, shared, “People seem to concentrate best when the demands on them are a bit greater than usual, and they are able to give more than usual. If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much for them to handle, they get anxious. Flow occurs in that delicate zone between boredom and anxiety.”

Five tips for harnessing the power of flow at work

Another aspect to consider is energy effectiveness. No one can sustain high energy levels throughout the day. We all have peak, moderate, and sluggish hours, periods where we have high and low energy. The key is to align tasks with energy levels.

When you create the right circumstances, it is possible to induce the flow state. Here’s how:

  1. Manage your energy cycles efficiently.
  2. Align focus-oriented tasks for peak energy hours
  3. Avoid multitasking
  4. Take microbreaks
  5. Create an atmosphere that promotes uninterrupted focus - minimize distractions, play background music, and set up a timer.

“You'll know you're in flow when work becomes effortless and enjoyable.”

It's not about getting through the task as quickly as possible—it's about doing it well at your own pace, with full attention focused on what needs to be done next. It can be challenging to find your groove and stay there, but if you keep these tips in mind over time, I’m sure you'll find your way eventually. Flow at work can transform mundane workdays into joyful days, improving self-confidence and boosting self-esteem. Are you ready to be in flow @Work?

Energy Effectiveness