7 ways to achieve a flow state at work
Think about your brainspace when you’re 100% focused at work: Words and numbers effortlessly float like clouds as you type away. Nothing else matters except the task at hand. If you’re listening to a podcast or favorite song, you don’t even hear or process the overarching themes. You’re in the zone. Laser-focused. Maybe you’ve mastered this art of productivity, or maybe you struggle with staying in work mode. Either way, achieving a flow state can help maximize your output, reduce stress and improve your happiness at work.
What's a flow state?
Not to be confused with a vinyasa flow, flow state is a term circling the cultural zeitgeist. What is it? In its simplest form, it’s the state of being “in the zone.” Headspace defines flow state as being completely focused on something, so much so that you’re beyond the point of distraction. You’re “at one” with a specific task, “as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum.” Sounds too good to be true, right? Great news: Virtually anyone can achieve this state, even doing day-to-day work tasks.
From a geekier neuroscience perspective, a flow state triggers alpha brain waves. Alpha waves are associated with mindfulness, being in the present. It’s a meditative resting state for your brain. While Beta waves are needed for rest and decision making, Alpha waves help retain new information. Alpha waves also help with mental coordination, and help remain calmly alert. This is the ideal mental state for work – for both productivity and mental health purposes.
What happens in a flow state?
According to Greater Good Magazine, when you’re in a flow state, you:
- Focus, immersed in the task at hand
- Forget about the world around you, yourself, and others
- Lose track of time
- Feel happy and in control
- Become creative and productive
Flow state vs. deep work state
Since we’re on the topic of work-related slang, you’ve probably also heard of deep work state. Deep work is similar to flow, but is more output-centric instead of focusing on the state of mind. Flow is associated with peace and mind-body connection, whereas deep work is a state of getting ‘ish done. According to Asana, deep work is a mental mode that allows learning hard things quickly. While deep work focuses on getting a lot done, the flow state focuses on getting things done with quality and overall growth in mind. Harnessing this knowledge, training our brains to get into flow states more often is a surefire way to help ourselves achieve deep work and get more done with less.
How to achieve a flow state at work
Ride some alpha waves by trying the following:
1. DITCH THE DISTRACTIONS
Move your phone to a different room, disable email notifications, and remove any additional physical barriers so that your primary focus is the task in front of you. Make sure to eliminate any internal distractions, too: Journal or meditate for 5-10 minutes to address and dismiss any pesky thoughts. If the thought of disabling notifications and disconnecting from the world makes you ancy, we recommend focus timer blocks to pull you out of the zone at a designated time.
2. Calculate your caffeine consumption
According to Atlassian, approx. 200mg is ideal, which translates to about 1.5 mugs of coffee. Too much caffeine = too much adrenaline, which will throw you out of your flow.
3. Be specific
Clearly indicate a specific task to focus on, according to Medium. If you don’t clearly define a task, you risk getting distracted or trying to multitask. Both will prevent getting into a flow state. For example, maybe your task is writing a blog post, editing a video, or designing a newsletter. Clarity is key.
4. Listen to the right music
Lyrics are distracting. That’s why we recommend listening to music without lyrics. Our favorite right now is Lofi Girl’s lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to. It’s a live YouTube playlist, so you don’t have to worry about what to play next. If you’re not into lofi, you can also try techno, trance and classical music. Anything without lyrics will do.
5. Pick the right task to focus on
The task at hand must be the right difficulty level. If it’s too challenging, you’ll be stressed and frustrated, making it impossible to get into a flow state. If it’s too easy, you’ll get bored and your mind will start to wander. Long story short, break the hard stuff into smaller tasks, and save the simple stuff for a podcast episode.
6. Move your body
Gentle body movements, like our favorite yoga flows/stretches, improve focus and productivity. Accomplishing small feats can give you the extra motivational push to get you in the zone.
7. Stay hydrated (yes, really)
Of all our research on flow states, hydration remains consistent in all tips and tricks. Our brains are made of 75% water, so think of it like watering your plants. Drinking enough water gives our brains energy, so we can concentrate and stay sharp. If you’re not drinking enough water, you’ll start to notice signs of fatigue, fogginess, and overall lethargy. Keep a large bottle of water nearby to stay sharp.
Why start now?
We’ve talked extensively about achieving work flow for better productivity, but beyond measurable work returns, we should really be getting into the flow for ourselves. According to Headspace, flow states are intrinsically positive experiences. A true flow state is one without superficiality; It’s the joy that comes from being in the moment and doing something you’re passionate about. The positive effects go beyond being in the moment, leading to a general sense of well-being and fulfillment. Headspace sums it up beautifully when they say, "The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, ARDO believes self care and mindfulness are keys to happiness both in and out of work. Find and pursue your purpose, and the right state of mind, you can make it happen.