How to optimize getting in the flow to do your best deep work

by | Aug 3, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

Working from home during Covid-19 has served as a wake-up call for many of us knowledge workers.

This time period opened our eyes to the ways we work, including how we integrate our work and personal life.

And considering the length of time we’ve experienced #Covidwfh, many of us have been able to reflect and gain valuable insights. For example, now we know:

  • HOW you work is more significant than where you work
  • WHERE you live has become a higher priority, especially if you have more flexibility over your work
  • WHEN you work is critical, especially when considering WHY you work and your other priorities, such as family, personal interests and well being
  • WHO you work for continues to be important
  • WHAT you do for work may need to change, especially if you’re feeling burned out or not as respected or valued as you want to be.

Gaining insights about these topics is useful. But please don’t hit the snooze button now.

We’re at an inflection point to make real differences and improvements around the way we work. So take advantage of this point in time.  

An important step is to set clear intentions. Which of these insights or others about work deserve your highest rankings? And which insights do you want to turn into actions? (If the highest priority ones are the hardest ones to implement immediately, consider identifying one or two easy wins you can achieve to jumpstart you in successfully redesigning your life.) 

As an example, let’s take the first one, the insight that where you work is somewhat immaterial. Instead, HOW you work makes a huge difference.

If HOW you work is a high priority, how are you structuring your work time to optimize your performance, especially to get into a flow state? That is, how do you set yourself up so that you get in the flow and enjoy your work experience and your work results?    

Flow is a high-focused mental state conducive to productivity, as identified and named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-American psychologist who’s also considered one of the co-founders of the positive psychology movement. (For more about the flow state, including its eight characteristics Csikszentmihalyi identified, check out this Positive Psychology website.)

To help you find your optimal flow state, when you can completely concentrate and get into flow fairly effortlessly, consider these three questions:

  1. What helps you get into a flow state?
  2. What hinders you from getting into a flow state when you want to?
  3. And how can you reduce any frictions that get in the way when you’re working, especially in a flow state?

 Be sure to cover the whole gamut of conditions, such as the type of work you’re doing, such as creative, research, technical or whatever. Also consider your workspace, your work location, your mental state, your physical state, the time of day, and any other factors that affect you.

Then to the extent possible, design your weeks and days to hold enough blocks of time to move yourself into your flow state to do “deep work.” Almost 10 years ago, Cal Newport, the author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, wrote about this concept in a 2012 blog post. He later expanded upon it in his 2016 bestseller, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Newport defines deep work as “cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”  

In that blog post, he describes four steps to follow for deep work. Other tips to help you get you good results for all work are:

  • Focus on your output, including the quality of your work, not the hours.
  • Set yourself up to have “Eureka!” moments that can help you solve problems. To make your work setting as productive as your shower for a-ha moments, ensure you have these four conditions.
  • Allow buffer time in your schedule to accommodate interruptions and to take short breaks to recharge
  • Build in time for other activities that are important for you, especially ones that improve the quality of your life, support your work output and quality, and elevate your mood. For ideas, check out Healthy Mind Platter.

One more point worth considering. In this research study that’s almost as old as Cal Newport’s blog, only about 10% of office workers reported doing their best thinking at work. While that study has never been replicated as far as I can tell, I’ve never heard of any knowledge workers or coaches disputing the results.

While we humans can be flexible and resilient, we do have our preferences about how we work. So if you have the autonomy to decide whether you’re returning to an office, working at home, committing to a hybrid setting or something else, choose what works well for you. And within that choice, take charge of what you can.

To be direct, will you use this inflection point to do what’s best for you and your work?


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