Apply Science to Boost Productivity at Work, part two

by Scott Crabtree

In part one of this Productivity Series, I provided you an overview of how you can apply science to boost productivity at work by minimizing multitasking. This second installment, will feature the concept of “flow” and how you achieve more flow by diminishing distractions when you need to focus the most.

Get Into the “Flow” to do Better Work

When you think of the word “Flow,” what do you imagine? Do you imagine something that is still or do you think more of a steady, constant stream of something?

You enter flow when you are fully focused on a highly-engaging task. When you are in flow you tend to lose track of time and can even lose a sense of self, because you are so focused on the task at hand.

According to Dr.  Michaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of flow, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

According to Csikzentmihalyi, these are some of the conditions needed to get into a flow state of mind:

  1. Clear Goals, and in particular clarity in what the intrinsic or extrinsic reward for achieving the goal will be
  2. Immediate feedback, whether that feedback be from yourself or a colleague
  3. Feeling of control, or autonomy, in completing the task

There’s one more condition that research suggests be met to help you stay in flow: minimize distractions. How can you diminish distractions in a typical workday?

Diminish Distractions to Stay in Flow

If you’ve experienced being happily immersed in a task and right at the moment you are about to solve the challenge, your cell phone rings and diverts your attention from what you’re doing, then you know what it feels like to lose your state of flow. Even worse, when you turn your attention back to the task at hand, it takes a significant amount of time to get back into that flow zone.

According to one study, “2.1 hours of productivity are lost per knowledge worker per day due to unimportant interruptions and distractions and recovery time from interruptions.”

Unfortunately, some of the tools that we use at work are major contributors to this problem: E-mail, cell phones, instant messengers, calendar notifications – all of these have become necessary in the modern workplace, but they can also lead to a decrease in productivity and happiness.

While it’s not likely possible to eliminate all distractions at work, it is possible to diminish the amount of distractions that interrupt your flow throughout the  day. Here are some tips and tricks that you can consider:

  1. Turn off automatic notifications: Unless you work in email customer service, it is not necessary for you to be informed as soon as a new email comes in. You can set aside time in a day for you to check and respond to new emails that you receive.
  2. Put your phone on silent mode when working on a task: There are now mobile phones which can set/indicate “priority” and allow you to receive normal calls from select contacts during emergencies.
  3. Disable instant messaging when you need to focus: Set your status to “Do Not Disturb: Critical Task ongoing” or a similar message for your teammates’ awareness.
  4. Log off from your social media accounts or turn off notifications while at work: This eliminates the temptation to check on your account when social media notifications come in

What are your other tips for staying in flow and diminishing distractions at work? We’d love to hear from you! Reply in the comments, share the post on Twitter or Facebook, or send us a comment.

Scott Crabtree

As the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree empowers individuals and organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to boost productivity and happiness at work.

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