Systems For Cultivating Focus and Finding Your Flow at Work

Systems For Cultivating Focus and Finding Your Flow at Work

Think about how you feel when you are totally engrossed in a hobby. Maybe time seems to fly by, your focus is laser-like, and you actually feel accomplished. Now picture that, but at work. Some people can get into this “flow” on the job but others find it almost impossible. Let’s explore what flow means, how businesses are implementing systems for better flow, and how we can create an environment that is flow-friendly.

Defining Flow: A Psychological Perspective

Flow or flow state is a sensation we experience when we are deeply focused on a task. Positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura unlocked flow for the world in the 1970’s when they introduced the idea as a state in which we become immersed in what we're doing.

Flow state can be described as “being in the zone,” yet it is different than hyperfocus as hyperfocus does not produce the positive benefits that flow does. When we are in a flow state, we experience minimal self-referential thinking such as self-reflection and worrying. Instead, we experience intense focus, no distractions, clear thinking, and incredible, unmatched productivity.

Surprisingly, flow state tends to come to us when we are challenged rather than when we are relaxed.

According to the theory of Aston-Jones and Cohen, flow lives in between alertness and stress where our performance and level of arousal are at peak levels. Here, we are task-engaged, meaning we are attentive and not very distractible.

The key to experiencing flow is an even ratio of skill to challenge. Falling into flow can only occur when we are both experienced in the task and also adequately challenged by it. This is where engagement at work becomes so imperative to our satisfaction, progress, motivation, and productivity at work. Professionals who are concentrated on a challenge are the ones who experience deep flow. If we are challenged within our skillset and engaged at the same time, our efficiency skyrockets.

What does a flow state feel like?

Flow state has been described in many different ways by people with various careers, skills, and personalities. From doctors to artists to athletes, everyone feels flow differently depending on the task and challenge. 

The eleven known characteristics of flow state are challenge, attentional focus, goal-driven, feedback, personal control, peace, timelessness, intrinsic motivation, single-mindedness, and disconnect from physical needs.

For most people who experience it, flow generally tends to feel like the following sensations:

  • Clarity
  • Serenity
  • Happiness
  • Concentration without distraction
  • Meaningfulness
  • Timelessness 
  • Accomplishment

The Importance of Finding Flow at Work

For high-performing people, finding flow in a job that is both challenging and rewarding brings many benefits to their personal career fulfillment and their team and company.

With higher productivity comes higher performance. Not only does flow allow for a more efficient task-completion process, but it also helps employees produce higher-quality outputs. Simply put, those who experience flow will complete tasks quicker and better. Higher performance inspires other team members to strive for flow state which greatly enhances the work culture and team motivation

Those who experience flow state can also better regulate their emotions and, therefore, have higher morale and satisfaction on the job. They become better team members by successfully accomplishing tasks in this focused state and, the more they experience flow, the more aware, reliant, and confident of a team member they become.

Confidence is also increased because of a lack of self-consciousness during flow. We become confident in our work when we experience flow, therefore encouraging concrete decisions rather than relying on approval or reassurance.

Reward and fulfillment come easier to those who experience flow state. When employees feel rewarded by their own personal accomplishments without validation from superiors or colleagues, the loop of satisfaction becomes sustainable. Feeling satisfied in our work means lower turnover and less burnout.

Similarly to self-made satisfaction, workers in flow are self-motivated. Experiencing the state of flow proves the power of productivity which keeps workers coming back for more flow experiences. When motivation is in short supply at work, flow is an invaluable asset that is worth investing in and tapping into.

Creativity thrives in flow as well. When we’re more creative at work, we’re stronger innovators and better problem-solvers. We bring more to the table when collaborating with colleagues and present opportunities that can take our differentiated business to the next level.

Folks who experience flow also benefit in terms of skill development. When actively challenged during a sustained period of time, professionals learn new things and develop and hone their skills to gear up for the next challenge.

While we experience these plentiful benefits when we focus on tasks alone, flow tends to be more enjoyable when experienced together. So, consider creating a system for entering flow as a team and see what kind of results blossom.

Systems For Focus and Flow at Work

1. Four-day workweek

The purpose of implementing a four-day workweek consisting of 32 hours is to increase productivity, decrease burnout, and provide a better work-life balance for teams. When we are more productive over fewer days, we get a chance to focus more intently knowing we have more time to relax, can invest in our personal life, and will have adequate time to recharge for the following week.

According to Kathy Gurchiek at SHRM, more than half of U.S. employers are ready to try a four-day workweek. The push for a three-day weekend is even more substantial among U.S. employees as 87% of workers say are interested in a four-day workweek and 82% believe adoption of the four-day workweek in the U.S. would be successful. 

One company that invested in the four-day workweek performed 47% better financially than the previous year. 

A Canadian trial of a four-day workweek brought about an average of 15% increase in revenue. This increase as well as other experienced benefits of the system were unanimous as all of the 41 companies continued the four-day workweek after the trial ended.

A similar global study concluded that employees were happier, more satisfied with their work, and felt less burnt out when working four days a week. It also became easier for businesses to attract new talent. These benefits continue for months after the conclusion of these trials, so long as the system is successfully followed and the fifth “work day” is used only for personal endeavors.

There are risks to a four-day workweek, of course, and it certainly is not for everyone. Overachieving workers and young employees might feel more pressure to keep up the amount of work they accomplish and struggle with the threat of falling behind schedule.

This highlights the importance and functionality of flow in the workplace. If teams invest in flow, they can avoid the negatives of a four-day workweek and reap the benefits of it at the same time. 

Switching to working four days a week is drastically changing the bones of an organization and the way business has run for decades, therefore, it is crucial to seek out feedback from employees and make adjustments in order to keep employees engaged and prioritized. After all, their needs are at the core of the system of a four-day workweek. 

Making sure employees are not falling behind and that the work is getting done is crucial to the economic and holistic success of the program. Keeping an open line of communication between team members and managers to discuss well-established goals and expectations can help keep the team on track and bring about all of the great benefits a four-day workweek has to offer.

At the end of the day, as the CEO of 4 Day Week Global Dale Whelehan says, a four-day workweek is about “reprioritizing HOW you work, WHY you work, and what way you work.” 

2. Focus Friday

Focus Friday is similar to a four-day workweek in that one day is not like the others - it is dedicated to a different pace of work.

Instead of having an extra day off of work (typically Friday) the day is dedicated to focus and productivity. Because managers and employees alike are the least productive on the last day of the work week, Focus Friday aims to change the narrative to make the fifth day the most productive. 

Pioneered by tech companies including Google and Slack, Focus Friday gives employees the opportunity to silence any distractions in order to accomplish the big, pesky, or daunting tasks. The goal here is to produce higher-quality work more efficiently. Fridays are reserved for individual work/projects and focus, so calls and meetings should be banned for the day, or at least minimized. Also, begone multi-tasking and browsers full of tabs, including email!

The nature of this system gives employees the perfect opportunity to get into flow state. Creating a culture where Fridays are reserved for moments of flow can change the structure of your business to allow for more productivity and greater satisfaction on Fridays rather than low productivity and effort. Perhaps Focus Fridays should be renamed Flow Fridays!

We know that setting clear boundaries at work leads to a better work-life balance, so in order to experience the benefits of employing Focus Friday, it’s important to clearly communicate these boundaries.

3. “Recharge Days” CEO Hussein Fazal holds twice quarterly recharge days. These recharge days are reserved for employees to unplug and dedicate their time to recouping and enjoying personal time without any expectation of work. Email is off the table and, of course, so are meetings, check-ins, and phone calls.

The idea is to grant employees a break so that they come back to the office more energetic and productive. Having a break in routine to check in with ourselves can be incredibly beneficial not only to our work but our well-being and satisfaction at work. Plus, knowing management has carved time out of the quarter simply for the well-being of employees helps create a more positive and respectful work culture that keeps on giving.

Regularly experiencing flow state allows for a better work-life balance

  1. Helps us practice mindfulness. Through flow, we become more grounded and present, both at home and at work. Being present at work and learning to leave work at the door means being able to be more present in the moments at home and outside of work.
  2. Helps us prioritize our life. Using flow to complete the most important tasks lets us practice dedicating uninterrupted time to what really matters and deserves our attention.
  3. Less burnout. Because it makes us more productive and leads to higher levels of happiness, flow contributes to less burnout. Flow combats quite a few prerequisites of burnout by granting us more control and autonomy over our work and better management of workload.
  4. Helps us accomplish chores at home so we can enjoy our free time. If we are skilled enough to experience flow while doing tasks that take up a lot of our free time, we will find ourselves having time to do things we actually want to do. Setting goals for chores and other obligations can help us get in the zone and take uninterrupted action.

Tips on How to Reach a Flow State

Entering a flow state is certainly easier said than done. Here are some general tips to help you get in the zone:

  • Have well-defined goals. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and in exactly how much time helps us focus on the task at hand.
  • Be passionate about the work. If you don't care about the work, you won’t get results. Be sure that you’re invested in the project and that it challenges you.
  • Know when you are most productive. Whether you’re more productive in the morning or afternoon, strategically choosing a chunk of time dedicated to flow can solely determine if you successfully reach the flow state and accomplish your goal. 

How to Cultivate A Flow-Friendly Work Environment 

Creating a flow-friendly work environment means curating a workspace where focus can thrive. 

Our Cultivate Presence meeting module discusses in depth how we can show up at work in ways that further our focus on the job, including preparing our spaces and mindsets for productivity.

“Scenery” or the setting of our work helps us narrow down what story we are telling. We can use color to our advantage in our scenery. For example, incorporating blue elements creates a tranquil and productive atmosphere. Green evokes restful feelings. Black communicates sophistication and white, concentration.

We shouldn’t forget about “props” when we think about our scenery. Plants and flowers in the office promote productivity, quality problem-solving, and creativity.

Scents should also be considered as they do contribute to how we work in a space. For more focus, consider the scent of cinnamon.

If we work better with sound, we can get into a positive headspace by listening to music such as classical, ambient, or jazz.

Find many more tips like this here.

If you work from home, practicing meditation and paying special attention to distractions and your work setup is imperative. Practice mindfulness to better be able to enter flow. 

It takes 10-15 minutes of focused attention to reach flow, so be intentional and patient when setting up your space so that the focus you've worked hard to invoke serves you well.

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