3 Ways to Get into Flow at Work

Chris Boutté, Siege Media
June 10, 2022
September 19, 2023
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You might have heard of "flow." It's that state of mind where you're most productive, active and happy. But what is it, and more importantly, how can you make flow work for you and not the other way around? Let's find out.
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Have you ever worked on something and completely lost track of time because you were so immersed in what you were doing? Maybe it wasn’t something that happened at work. You may have been doing one of your favorite hobbies or a personal project when it happened. When you reach this state, it’s something known as “flow”. 

Many of us have experienced a flow state, and we know it helps us get things done, but we don’t know how to harness it. Fortunately, due to years of research, we can point to specific actions you can take to reach a state of flow at work to get tasks done faster while maintaining quality.

Before we dive into the tips for getting into a state of flow, it’s helpful to know where it comes from and why it happens.

What is Flow?

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the man who popularized flow. He was interested in what motivated people. Mihaly knew that individuals were motivated by high levels of enjoyment and satisfaction, but he wanted to know what triggered these feelings. From interviewing people from all walks of life and different economic backgrounds, he found that the experiences of greatest joy and satisfaction had similar characteristics. 

These characteristics appeared while people were doing different activities, and some of these characteristics include:

  • A focus on the present.
  • Immediate feedback and future rewards.
  • A sense of control over a task.
  • Clarity of goals.
  • The task is challenging but not out of a person’s skill level.

Along with these characteristics, people also seemed to lose a sense of time or felt like time sped up. They also experienced a sense of reflective self, similar to a meditative state. 

Csikszentmihalyi studied this for years and helped bring the idea of flow to the masses. Now, we hear about how athletes get into the “zone” and other high-performing individuals reaching this state.

Flow at Work

We’re in the business of improving productivity and efficiency by making it easier to document and share SOPs for companies of all sizes. This means that we’re regularly thinking about productivity and making work life easier for employees as well as management. By learning how to get into a state of flow at work, you’ll get more done and (as you now know) have higher levels of enjoyment and satisfaction while you do it.

When you learn how to work faster by achieving a state of flow, you can worry less about working late hours or bringing work home with you. Below, we’ve listed some tips for achieving a state of flow at work to increase your personal productivity as well as how your team operates.

1. Challenge Yourself at Work

It seems counterintuitive to choose to do difficult tasks, but this is one of the key aspects of finding your state of flow. Sure, it’s much easier to find easy, monotonous tasks, but this often leads to lower satisfaction in the workplace. While doing these types of tasks, it seems like the day takes twice as long, and it typically happens because you aren’t challenging yourself.

To get into a flow state, get creative and see how you can implement tasks that are challenging while also being realistic.

Finding a task that’s far beyond your capabilities won’t help. Instead, choose one that you’re proficient at, but make it a bit more challenging. See if you can do it a little bit faster or improve the quality in some way. Alternatively, you can ask a manager for a more difficult task you think you can accomplish — that’ll also look great when it’s time for promotions and raises.

If you’re a manager, it’s important to keep this in mind when assigning tasks as well. Check in with your team and see how comfortable they are with their tasks and how they feel about them. You may find that your team isn’t being as productive because certain people aren’t being challenged. 

Open up lines of communication and see what adjustments you can make to help people live up to their full potential and reach a state of flow.

2. Eliminate distractions and multitasking

Achieving a state of flow requires concentration, and nothing kills concentration like distractions. When you have something you need to get done, it’s time to turn off notifications as best as possible. Obviously, it’s good to put your cellphone away while working on a task, but there are many work notifications as well. Slack, email and other notifications can hurt flow just as much as incoming text or social media notifications.

In addition to distractions, multitasking can be a major issue blocking you from flow. Although many people pride themselves on being great multitaskers, numerous studies show that multitasking makes you less productive. According to psychologist Susan Weinschenk, you may be losing upwards of 40 percent of your productivity trying to multitask. To reach a flow state, pick a specific task and stick with it.

3. Embrace Your Specific Work Style

Lastly, finding your specific work style can be extremely helpful when attempting to reach a state of flow. Much like our personalities, we all have different work styles where we become more productive when we’re in the right environment. 

This flow chart can help you discover your work style:

work style flow chart

As an employee, you only have so much control over your work environment and which tasks you can do. If you find that you work better alone than in groups or vice versa, it may be worth chatting about with your manager. By working together, you may be able to find a way to do more tasks that align with what helps you be more productive. And what manager doesn’t want that?

Managers should also keep this in mind when assessing workflow and productivity. Are you providing your employees with an opportunity to work in a way that aligns with their personality and work style? Does the current environment have a good balance between interaction with the team as well as the ability to work distraction-free? You may not be able to make changes overnight, but keeping this in mind can help you make a plan for the future.

When people have a chance to reach a state of flow, not only are they more productive, but they’re much more satisfied with their work. 

You now have a variety of ways to get into flow at work. It may require some creative thinking to implement them, but it’ll be worth it.

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