Distraction and an inability to focus are common workplace problems that affect many of us, impacting our productivity. But the good news is we can all develop the valuable skills necessary to work at an optimum, deep level.
Typically, we are unlikely to say that we had a “good, productive work day” every single day. Even after a full night’s sleep and with well-laid, meaningful plans, most of us end up being pulled in a thousand different directions and doing the least important tasks, that zap our motivation even more. By the end of the day, we feel like we haven’t accomplished much at all.
But if you’re one of the lucky few with the ability to do “deep work”, every work day is satisfying. Deep workers manage their schedule so they can churn out results like clockwork.
So what separates the deep workers from the average employee?
Deep Work and the Flow State
Professor Cal Newport of Georgetown University defines deep work as crucial to peak productivity. It is the ability to maximise the intensity with which you work, and the quality of your work within an allocated time.
Deep workers plan out their activities, so they can stay on complex tasks for long, uninterrupted periods without giving in to distraction. Once they begin a task, the intensity of their focus triggers what is called a “flow state”. This is a feeling of heightened consciousness that enables them to produce their best work.
- Complete concentration on the specific task, allowing for the consciousness to dive deeply.
- Clarity of purpose, and mastery of the skills required – so you know exactly what to do, and when you’re getting it right.
- Complete balance of challenge and abilities – the task is not so difficult as to evoke a sense of failure, but it’s not too easy either.
- Feeling intrinsically rewarded – you feel a sense of achievement, and the activity in itself is fulfilling, so you get immediate ROI.
- Effortlessness – everything works harmoniously, guided by an inherent logic so you don’t overthink it.
- Loss of self-awareness – you can lose yourself in the activity.
- A feeling of complete control – your mind is purposefully occupied and relaxed.
- A sense of timelessness – so two hours or two seconds can feel like ten minutes.
How to Achieve Flow State for Deep Work
The flow state can help any team to thrive. Studies have shown that flow enables higher levels of creativity1 at work, that can evoke feelings of happiness even after three days.
To evoke this gratifying state, there are a few essential requirements.
Step 1: Cultivate mindfulness every day.
When we become fully engaged in the present moment, we nurture focused attention on the things that matter most. It helps us filter our priorities so that we can focus our energies in the right direction, towards more meaningful work. This leads naturally to engagement in the flow state, and to deep work and effortless productivity.
Step 2: Set the right challenge
According to flow experts, Ribera1 and Ceja, knowing the right balance between stress and boredom keeps workers motivated and engaged, making deep work easier.
Ribera and Lucia suggest increasing challenges when skill levels are high, and developing new skills so workers feel they can overcome more complex tasks.
Step 3: Plan for deep work
Divide out your work into manageable tasks and carve out significant blocks of time for deep work on those tasks. You will lose track of time, so check the clock before and after you next get into the flow state. Do you focus for three, four hours? Set aside that much uninterrupted time and allow for an hour longer than you anticipate.
Step 4. Have a distraction-free zone
You’ve allocated time, but as you open your computer you start emailing or checking your network for updates.
Research shows it only takes 20 minutes of disruption to ruin one’s motivation. And you’ll need even more effort to get back on task. Remove your usual distractions in advance – turn off your phone, set an Out of Office alert or, better yet, go offline.
Set aside a space where there’s just you and your work.
Let co-workers know you’re entering a deep work block. With time, your outstanding productivity might inspire your colleagues to enter the flow state and work deeper.
The lynchpin of Holistic Services Group’s Culture of Wellness ethos, mindfulness, is an effective way to cultivate presence both at work and in your life as a whole.
Contact us about our workplace wellbeing workshops to begin understanding the benefits of being fully engaged in each present moment, and how this leads to deep work and effortless productivity.
2 Affect and Creativity at Work, Teresa M. Amabile Harvard University, et al.
3 The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress, Mark, Gudith and Klocke, University of California.