Why ‘flow’ is your secret weapon for productivity at work

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This mindful, meditative state is how Nobel Prize winners get their best work done. Here’s how you can tap into it

You may not know it by name, but you have likely experienced a state of ‘flow’ at work. A term coined by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi, it’s the ideal mindset for productive working – a state of complete focus and calm that many experience when doing something they enjoy, without distraction.

“It’s that complete sense of absorption you have when you’re in the thick of your work, and it’s what leads to optimal performance,” explains positive psychology expert Sharon Aneja. It’s somewhere between mindfulness and a meditative space – the ideal, most-productive mental state to be in when trying to accomplish your work.

Csikszentmihályi studied a series of highly successful people, many of them Nobel Prize winners, and found that their ability to enter this mental state ‘frequently and deliberately’ was key to their productivity.

So how do we tap into this magical, motivating mindset? “You can create the ideal conditions for ‘flow’ to happen in, but it’s not just based on external circumstances – you need some inner harmony as well,” says Aneja. “It’s something that both organisations and individuals can work towards creating.”

Declutter and mute distractions

Firstly, you must remove as many distractions as possible – from having an uncluttered desktop to switching off notifications and device alerts. Ideally, you should be focusing on just one task at a time, says Aneja, which can feel like going against the grain of a multi-tasking obsessed work culture. Setting some boundaries and putting other tasks and requests on hold is a must for achieving flow. Working away from the office can help, too: in a PwC survey, 52% of executives reported that employee productivity had improved while working remotely.

Start small and build up

In the age of task juggling, many-layered projects and demands from every direction, it can feel strange at first to commit to one task, without checking in on your other responsibilities. “Start small,” says Aneja, “and try to focus for as long as you can. If you can take 10 minutes out of your day to close your many tabs and work on one vital project, that’s a start.” From there, increase the amount daily in a bid to achieve 30- or 60-minute spells of flow.

Start with the tasks you love

There’s a big link between working on something that you feel passionate about and achieving flow, says Aneja. Pick something that you find challenging but not stressful, engaging but accessible. “Think about the things that really motivate you and interest you,” she recommends, “Chunk up your tasks and decide which you really need to focus energy and attention on.” You’re most likely to get the hang of flow when applying it to something you’re already motivated to do.

Make it meaningful

Of course, not every area of work is a Nobel-Prize-worthy mission – but that doesn’t mean that flow is out of reach. If you need to achieve a focused state to work on something you’re less enamoured with, the trick is to find some meaning in it. “Say you’re organising budgets – perhaps focus on the fact that it will allow you to get new work signed off,” says Aneja. If the task feels more meaningful to you, you’re more likely to allow yourself to achieve a state of flow.

Notice the results

Take note of the tasks and time periods that have flowed especially smoothly, says Aneja, and try to recreate the conditions you were in when that happened. “Learn what works for you and really notice the difference it brings to your work life,” she explains. One meeting-free morning a week, one full day a month to focus on one particular and vital responsibility, or performing certain tasks from home or a different workspace could make all the difference. “A lot of the time we feel we just have to get through the workday – we forget that you can actually enjoy it,” says Aneja. “Rediscovering that joy of work can be transformative.”

Why not explore Regus’ flexible options to see how you can achieve your flow? From a desk for the day to a private office, there’s something to suit every type of worker