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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. June 17, 2021

How to Reach Your Flow State & Stay There

Go with the flow

Woman sitting in cafe with laptop, focusing closely on work.
Image courtesy of Josh Duke

This article is part of InHerSight's Techsplorer series. Women in tech face distinct challenges. Learn how to build a successful career in this male-dominated industry without sacrificing what you want.

Life is full of distractions...the dog barking, the pull of online shopping, your kids’ piercing voices as they shriek “mom!” for the umpteenth time this morning. Hours creep by, but it just seems impossible to get in the zone. Working from home makes it harder, but even in the office, becoming completely immersed in your work can be a challenge. All over Pinterest and Instagram, productive people are showing off their completed to-do lists and aesthetic desks, and you might catch yourself thinking “that can never be me.” We’ll let you in on a secret: It totally can be you! You just have to reach your “flow state.” 

What is your flow state? 

Your flow state happens when you’re hyper-focused on a task...so much so that the world around you seems to fade away. In this state, distractions don’t exist—your mind is so connected to your work that it consumes you. You better hope the fire alarm doesn’t go off, because if it did, you’d be totally oblivious (and maybe a bit crispy).

Dr. Russell Thackeray, a business psychologist and the founder of QED, says flow is when you are operating at your highest possible level of performance. “ It’s about learning to place your critical prefrontal cortex into a form of ‘coast mode,’ and it can be learned.”

Although reaching a flow state is commonly associated with the tech industry (coding is prime flow state work), you can reach a state of flow doing any job. When you’re in this state, not only are you super productive, but you’re focused enough to come up with some really creative ideas, which is beneficial no matter your area of work. 

Read more: 6 Times When You’re Your Most Creative

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How to reach your flow state

1. Put aside all distractions

This one might sound tricky, but try to remove as many distractions from your workspace as possible. Get rid of annoyingly loud clocks, clutter on your desk, and especially unnecessary technology. It’s so easy to think you’ll just check one text message, and the next thing you know, you’re scrolling on Facebook or Googling banana bread recipes. Most jobs (especially remote positions) require computers, but try moving your phone to another room or zipping it up in your bag.

“Everytime you get distracted at work, even just to check a notification or to chat with a friend, it’ll take a number of minutes before you gain full concentration again,” says Michelle Davies, a life coach and the cofounder of The Best Ever Guide to Life, a personal development field guide. “Therefore, turning off your alerts is a vital step in protecting you from disruptions so you can sustain being in the flow state.”

If apps like Slack are required for work, or if you love listening to Spotify as you type, download the desktop versions to your computer. You’ll get the same benefits, but without risking falling down the rabbit hole with other fun distractions on your phone.

Read more: Struggling to Stay Focused? These 6 Things Can Help. 

2. Listen to music 

Speaking of Spotify, music can be an awesome way to keep yourself in the zone. “Internal distractions usually take place in the form of mundane thoughts and concerns,” Davies says. “So, playing some preferred ambient music can keep those internal distractions in check.” 

Although it may be tempting to jam out to your favorite tunes while at work, try “functional music” instead. Some music production apps like Brain.fm even use AI to tune songs to activate the brain’s neural activity and increase focus, meditation, and relaxation. White noise is always a great option, too. 

Read more: Rest, Curated: 18 Playlists & Apps to Help You Chill Out

3. Make your workspace a vibe 

You can’t enter a state of flow if you’re not comfortable! If you’re able, make your workspace cozy, especially if you’re working from home and have unlimited freedom. Light candles on a side table, and pull a comfortable blanket over your lap. If you’re considering painting or adding more accessories, look out for shades of green. It’s been scientifically proven to improve focus

Avoid curling up on your living room couch or hanging out in common areas. Not only can it tempt you to catch a quick nap instead of working, but it will also prevent your brain from designating between your work and personal life. To maximize productivity and enter that state of flow, keep your workspace comfortable but work-oriented. Store everything you need at your fingertips (from sticky notes to snacks) so you can stay at your desk long enough to reach that flow state. It usually takes your brain at least 15 minutes to start to reach a state of flow, and even longer to become completely focused.  

Read more: Reclaim Your Focus (& Space) with These Home Office Decor Tips

4. Don’t try to multitask 

Especially if you have kids, you’re probably a master multitasker. It can be tempting to hop from project to project while in the office, but that doesn’t work if you’re trying to enter a state of flow. In order to multitask effectively, you have to be extra mindful, and Thackeray says mindfulness negatively interferes with your ability to achieve a flow state because it can distract you from getting in the zone. 

Instead of trying to tackle many things at once, reaching a state of flow and focusing on one thing at a time can actually help you get just as much done. Try making a list of everything you want to get done during the day, and then methodically check off one project at a time. 

Read more: Strategic Multitasking: How To Be Efficient at Everything

5. Ask for projects you’re interested in

Getting into a state of flow can be tricky if you aren’t interested in the work you’re doing. Although you can manage external factors to increase your chances of reaching a state of flow, it’s a challenge to force yourself into it. If you like what you’re working on, the ability to hyperfocus on it will come much more easily. Don’t be afraid to specifically ask for projects that you’re interested in, or better yet, present ideas of your own to your boss. Not only will you be more likely to reach a state of flow, but you’ll also show ambition and initiative at the same time.

Read more: 6 Ways to Improve a Short Attention Span

About our sources

Dr. Russell Thackeray is an organizational development specialist, business psychologist, coach and motivational speaker. He specializes in the “soft issues” of business, working with leaders to increase resilience, adaptability and accountability and reduce workplace burnout. He holds a MBA from University of Reading, and a PHd in Leadership & Executive Coaching from Middlesex University. 

Michelle Davies is a certified solution-focused life coach. She is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Best Ever Guide to Life, a website and field guide with a focus on development and personal growth. A self-proclaimed “Mompreneur,” she is passionate about helping people, and especially moms, to pursue their personal and career-centered goals.

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Anna Louise Pickens

Contributor

Anna Louise Pickens is InHerSight’s editorial intern. She loves writing about anything related to women—from women’s fashion to lifestyle to workplace equality. Her bylines include Chapel Hill Magazine, Heart of NC Weddings, Durham Magazine, and Chatham Magazine. She’s currently a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC Chapel Hill where she is double majoring in Business and Journalism.

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