Go With the Flow

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX


Do you live with a gamer? I do – two of them. And while I appreciate the art, the storylines, and the skills involved in conquering levels or winning a match, I do get frustrated around dinnertime. “One more minute.” “Just let me finish this level.” or even worse Silence. They are completely absorbed in their game and all outside distractions seem to fade away. They are definitely in the “flow.”

Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” Being in the flow, or in the zone, is a feeling of being fully immersed and intensely focused. We can experience flow not only when we’re doing something entertaining such as gaming, but also when we practice a skill repeatedly (on a musical instrument or an athletic drill) or tackle a challenging task. Our best work is often done when we get absorbed into the flow and distractions fade away. We are at our most productive. 

But the problem I hear often from office workers these days is the difficulty of getting into the flow in our modern open-concept offices. While sharing a workspace with co-workers can lead to more collaboration and sharing, it can be “hell” for introverts or the easily distracted. Walk into an open-concept space these days and you’re likely to see dozens of workers wearing headphones trying to get some private headspace and block out the chaos. 

Everyday mindfulness can help manage the mental chaos of a busy office place. Here are a few simple tips that can get you started. 

  1. Headphones are great, but avoid listening to music with words or podcasts. Our brains are designed to process auditory input first – especially words. When trying to focus on a work task, your brain will be continually trying to process what you’re hearing and will require more energy to ignore it and focus on the page or screen in front of you. Try listening to instrumental music or nature sounds when you really want to concentrate.
  2. Challenge yourself. Flow comes more easily when we focus on tasks that are difficult, but not frustrating. Learning new skills, taking on new responsibilities, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone can all help to achieve greater productivity and satisfaction. 
  3. Establish boundaries. Be honest with your co-workers about when and how you are willing to be interrupted. Don’t be hesitant to tell people “Can you wait a minute? I’m really in the flow right now.” Set up times to meet and collaborate. Switch off notifications on email, messaging and your phone. 
  4. Practice breathing exercises. Take a cleansing breath or two before you start. If you are distracted, take another mindful breath before you start again. Notice how your breathing feels. Tell yourself to remain calm, focused and productive. 

Being in the flow is a great way to stay productive, but work is also about collaboration and relationships. Make sure you set aside time to chat, bounce ideas and give your brain a rest. Working effectively is about balance and with a little practice and intentionality, you will find the balance that works for you. 

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