Flow States & How They Can Improve Productivity

Karina Corona

During the COVID-19 pandemic, about 42% of the U.S. workforce transitioned to working from home full time. With that sudden shift came new work challenges. 

A 2020 Clockwise report analyzing pre- and post-pandemic work weeks found that workers are spending more time in meetings and working longer hours. In addition to being busier, 11% also saw an increase in fragmented time, or chunks of time shorter than two hours. 

According to a recent study by the University of Chicago, this increase in fragmented time had a negative effect on the amount of available focus time. These researchers define “focus time” as a two-hour (or more) block of time that’s uninterrupted by meetings or calls. 

One solution for a more focused workforce? Tapping into a flow state. Here’s what you need to know about flow and how reaching a flow state at work can help you become more productive.

What is a flow state? 

Flow is the feeling of total involvement with a task or experience, and a flow state is losing yourself within that task or experience, like being in a bubble of deep focus and enjoyment. 

Once you’re in a flow state, you may find that time begins to slip away and you’re able to accomplish your task with ease. These are all conditions that positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first introduced in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

In Flow, Csikszentmihalyi pinpointed the concept of shifting happiness or enjoyment levels by finding or tapping into personal flow. After tapping into this flow and reaching a flow state, Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people not only actively focused better, they performed and felt at their best. 

7 conditions needed for flow

During his 2004 TED talk Flow: The Secret to Happiness, Csikszentmihalyi breaks down the feeling of being in a flow state:

  1. Being completely involved, focused, and concentrated.
  2. Experiencing a sense of ecstasy.
  3. Feeling great inner clarity and understanding of what needs to be done.
  4. Understanding that the task at hand is achievable.
  5. Having a sense of serenity, or forgetting about egos.
  6. Focusing on the present moment.
  7. Finding intrinsic motivation; the act of completing a task becomes its own reward.

Once all conditions are activated within the workplace, enjoyment and productivity are achieved.

To learn more about how to tap into your flow, check out these seven tips to become more efficient at work.

Why flow state is important for the workplace and productivity

A 2015 study of productivity by the University of California Irvine, uncovered good and bad news. Good news: 82% of interrupted work is resumed the same day. Bad news: It can take workers an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. 

Now imagine that happening 10 times in a single workday. Hypothetically, when all interruptions are tallied up, the “disruption cost” for workers is nearly four hours of lost time. 

The study also points out that “any interruption introduces a change in work pattern and is not related to context. … Together, our study along with [research pulled from a study examining the nature of fragmented work], show that interruptions that share a context with the main task may be perceived as being beneficial but the actual disruption cost is the same as with a different context.”

With so many employees now navigating new work models (in addition to balancing other familial obligations, like child care), the need for flow — free of interruptions and distractions — is greater than ever. Here’s a glimpse at how remote work has affected the workers: 

Time spent in meetings has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic (Microsoft)
45% increase in the number of chats sent per week (Microsoft)
17% increase in the number of emails managed (U of Chicago)
62% of all meetings are now scheduled ad hoc (Microsoft)

Flow states: The secret to improving work productivity

Interruptions are costly and detrimental to productivity. But by understanding how to find your flow and reaching a flow state in the workplace, you’ll not only be empowered to approach tasks with an “I-can” attitude, you’ll be inspired to engage with the task with an “I-want” attitude. 

This engagement will ultimately lead to positive work potential, like finding meaning in your work, being more productive and profitable, and putting out higher quality work. One way to unlock that potential is task automation. 

Keep reading to see how task automation allows people to focus their energy and tap into their flow state. 

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Written by
Karina Corona
Jr. content writer @ Pipefy. I write about process optimization, digital tools, and how teams can leverage automation to free themselves from hours of boring, repetitive work.

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