All posts
8 ways to achieve flow state at work - and how it benefits your teams
Share this

8 ways to achieve flow state at work - and how it benefits your teams

Discover how achieving a flow state at work benefits your teams and business by improving employee productivity, engagement, and satisfaction.

Table of Contents

There's a new epidemic on the rise, threatening even the most dedicated professionals: burnout. With 35% of Gen Zs and 28% of Millennials feeling distanced from their job, they're more likely to experience negative feelings about their work. This makes them even more likely to burn out and encounter ongoing mental exhaustion and feelings of inefficacy.* 

This negative feedback loop shouldn’t come as a surprise when you learn that around four hours per week is lost to toggling between apps and tools.** Being inundated by distractions at work makes it hard to get things done and stay engaged. However, leaders can help people learn how to block out distractions so they can achieve a flow state at work—allowing them to do better work, feel happier, and not burn out.

In this post, you'll learn the differences between flow state and deep work. You’ll also understand how to achieve flow state at work and how it benefits your team and company. We'll also show you how a visual collaboration platform like Switchboard helps maintain flow state and reach your targets by reducing distractions and context switching. 

More flow, less burnout.
Switchboard unifies all your people, tools, and projects so work can flow without distractions. 
Learn more

What is flow state at work?

A flow state at work is a mental state of deep concentration, optimal performance, and heightened focus because you're fully immersed in a task or activity. The concept of flow was originally identified by psychology researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this state, people are so engrossed in what they are doing that they lose track of time, distractions fade away, and their thoughts and actions are aligned.

In a TED Talk, flow-state expert Diane Allen identifies it as "an optimal state of mind where we feel our best and we perform our best." 

What’s the difference between a flow state vs deep work? 

Deep work refers to doing focused, uninterrupted, and cognitively demanding work. It's working with full concentration on a single, meaningful task, often for an extended period, to produce very specific high-quality results. 

Being in a state of flow involves a sense of ease when performing an action or task. It's the feeling of things effortlessly clicking into place. You might know it as being “in the zone” or recognize that feeling of being completely in the present moment when you lose all sense of time.  

While deep work can certainly overlap with the experience of a flow state, it doesn't always guarantee it. Deep work emphasizes the importance of minimizing distractions and allocating substantial blocks of time to your work, which can create an environment conducive to entering a flow state. 

However, the actual occurrence of flow depends on various factors, including your personal engagement with the task, your level of skill and familiarity with it, and the presence of clear goals. Unlike deep work, flow states also happen in sports, art, cooking, yoga, and other, non-work activities. 

What are the benefits of achieving a flow state at work? 

Think about the last time you felt completely absorbed by a task: time seemed to vanish, distractions disappeared, and you experienced a profound sense of fulfillment and concentration.

As well as reducing burnout, this can unlock a powerful, transformative sense of creativity and job satisfaction. Here's how. 

People are more productive  

Operating in a state of flow can enhance focus and engagement, resulting in heightened productivity and efficiency. This can improve your sense of connection to your work, which helps to prevent burnout and keep morale high. Flow states are often linked to peak performance because it’s easier to engage in tasks for the sheer enjoyment and challenge of the activity, rather than external rewards. This intrinsic motivation can fuel productivity and help you make decisions faster. 

More creativity and innovation  

Flow states stimulate creative thinking and innovative problem-solving due to the deep focus they promote. Working in a heightened state of cognitive processing can lead to unique perspectives when it comes to tasks and problem solving. This can then generate novel solutions and breakthroughs in your work.

Allen identifies flow as the very thing that enables creative and original ideas to pop into our heads, no matter where we are. As she says, "How many problems have you solved just by standing in the shower?"

More job satisfaction 

Experiencing flow leads to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, contributing to increased overall satisfaction at work. Successful flow experiences can boost self-confidence and a feeling of mastery over your work that positively impacts performance and attitude. Flow states also provide a temporary reprieve from external stressors, which can lower stress and anxiety levels during work, and keep burnout at bay. 

For Allen, tapping into flow states while performing music allowed her to overcome personal and professional barriers like self-confidence and public speaking. 

Now you know the benefits of flow, let’s look at how to achieve a flow state at work. 

8 ways to achieve a flow state of mind — and help your team do the same 

“The more practice you have, the more you can snap into a flow state,” says Allen. This means that the more you encourage and enable your team to experience a state of flow, the easier it will be for them to quickly enter it. 

Here's how you can help your team with finding flow and improving focus at work

1. Have clear goals 

Clear goals help focus your mind and attention. When you have a well-defined objective, you know exactly what you need to achieve. With a sense of direction and purpose, there's also less room for indecision or wavering, which are common obstacles to flow.

For instance, a product team working on a mobile app needs specific goals. These might be enhancing app performance by reducing loading times or launching a new feature to drive user engagement and retention. By having well-defined goals and a precise roadmap, they can make sure everyone's working with a clear sense of purpose and direction. This makes it easier for people to enter a flow state while working on individual tasks. 

2. Establish a routine 

A routine can help you get into the right state of mind for flow. Allen gives the example of Thomas Edison, who had a pipe organ in his laboratory to help him achieve flow. Similarly, Albert Einstein insisted on no one bothering him during his daily walks, so he could achieve flow. 

Whether your routine involves stretching your muscles or sitting in silence with a cup of coffee, it's important to be consistent. This can help trigger your brain into thinking it's time to flow, and get you there faster.

To help your team establish the right routine for them, try: 

  • Encouraging rituals. You should develop a pre-work ritual that signals to your brain that it's time to enter a focused state. This could be as simple as doing a quick mindfulness exercise or preparing a special tea.
  • Working in a consistent environment. Try to work in the same location each time you want to enter a flow state. Your brain associates this environment with focused work, making it easier to get into the flow.

3. Set aside blocks of time  

Part of establishing a routine involves setting aside time to focus, so encourage your team to block off time in their calendars for daily focus work. You could also establish “no meeting days” or group sessions to work on a project. 

For example, you might get everyone together in a persistent meeting room in Switchboard, which people can hop into when it suits them. This gives them a feeling of autonomy and control over the task, instead of being ruled by their calendars. Giving everyone a space to contribute async or in real time encourages them to take ownership of their work. This can make for better prioritization and time management, as well as adding to their sense of accomplishment.

Pro tip: Switchboard’s visual collaboration platform lets you keep all the browser-based apps, tools, and people you need for your project in dedicated, persistent rooms. This makes it easy for teams like designers to get into a flow state while creating user interfaces or for developers to write and edit code without distractions. 
Switchboard room with design concepts, illustrations, and goals and objectives
Switchboard lets product designers achieve flow by unifying all their favorite tools in one place—so they don’t need to go looking for them. Source: Switchboard

4. Have a balance of skill and challenging tasks  

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes: "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."

It helps to hit that sweet spot where tasks are challenging while matching your level of skill. If the task or project is too easy, it can quickly lead to boredom. If it's too difficult, it can lead to burnout and frustration. 

Here's how: 

  • Encourage stretch goals. Introduce tasks and projects that challenge your team slightly beyond their comfort zones. Stretch goals help push the boundaries of people's skills in a manageable, enjoyable way.
  • Offer autonomy and choice. Give your team some degree of autonomy and choice in how they approach their tasks. This will help keep them engaged with their work. If it’s not possible to let people choose what they do, encourage collaboration on tasks where possible. Inspire them with examples of collaboration where people combine their skills and knowledge to achieve their goals.  

5. Minimize distractions 

Whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, modern workplaces and everyday life are so full of distractions that it can be impossible to focus on the task at hand and achieve flow. This means you need to be intentional about how you set up your physical and digital work environment so you can get more done. 

First, think about your physical environment, like lighting, seating, and temperature. You can’t get into a flow state if you’re constantly fidgeting or straining to see what you’re doing. 

Next, turn off notifications and encourage people to close unnecessary apps and tabs when working on a task. This reduces the temptation to switch tasks every time you receive an alert or notice a still-open tab. Social media and instant communication tools like Slack, in particular, make it easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything's a crisis or needs to be dealt with immediately. This can prevent you from entering a flow state because you don't know how to filter out the noise and focus on what's truly important. 

You should also cancel meetings and use asynchronous work best practices whenever possible. Being selective about meetings gives your team more time for focus work without constant interruptions from their calendar. 

6. Don’t multitask 

Remember those four hours per week lost to context switching that we mentioned earlier? Well, constantly jumping between projects, tabs, tools, and notifications makes it hard to give a single task your full attention. Here's how to avoid that: 

  • Set boundaries. Encourage everyone to communicate when they need focused work time, perhaps by setting hours in their calendars and Slack statuses. They should let people know when they’ll be unavailable and when they can expect a reply to any messages left during that time. If your tools have a “do not disturb” setting, use it.  
  • Use time management techniques. For example, the Pomodoro method helps keep you focused in intervals, typically 25 minutes, followed by a short break. During each interval, commit to working on a single task without interruption.

Use apps like document collaboration tools that integrate with each other. This helps people stay organized and reduces time spent searching for and sharing information. You know what they say about messy desks and messy minds—the same applies to the digital workplace.

Pro tip: Switchboard reduces context switching by keeping all your work in designated project rooms—no more hunting through different tabs, apps, or Slack threads to find what you need. When there’s nothing to pull you out of that flow state, you can get on with your work instead. You can also work without video on, which eliminates the self-consciousness you get from always seeing yourself on screen.
Switchboard project room populated with files, active members, and rooms sidebar
In Switchboard, you can pull all the tools you need to get work done from one place, and leave out any distractions. Source: Switchboard

7. Do what you enjoy 

Genuine enjoyment of the task and the process itself–not just the end result–helps you achieve a flow state. It should feel good to do a task for its own sake, especially since Allen affirms that positive experiences with flow states help you access them more regularly. 

She recommends recreating positive memories of when you were in a flow state and examining them to identify what works for you. For example, if you thrive on data analysis, you might find digging through an Excel spreadsheet gets you flowing faster. This way, you know how to enter that state by recreating the action or task. 

Where possible, have team members shape their day-to-day schedules to suit their needs and interests. This helps give them a sense of control and helps them be aligned with their work, which should correlate with more purpose in their professional and personal lives. 

8. Don’t force it 

It's crucial not to force a flow state: heightened focus and productivity are best nurtured rather than coerced. Forcing it can lead to stress and frustration—exactly the opposite of what flow is meant to foster. 

If it’s just not happening, take a break, clear your head, and try again later. Here are some other things you can do to get in the zone: 

  • Do a warm-up activity. Perform a simple, related task or activity as a warm-up before diving into the main task. This can help you ease into the flow state gradually.
  • Change your perspective. Shift your perspective by considering the task in a new light. Try to view it as an opportunity for growth, learning, or creativity rather than a chore. 
  • Relax and release pressure. Anxiety or the pressure to achieve flow can be counterproductive. Take a deep breath, release any self-imposed stress, and relax. Flow often emerges when you're at ease and enjoying the task.

Achieving a flow state at work: The key to more productive, engaged teams

One of the best ways to combat burnout is to connect your teams to their purpose and work. Getting into a state of flow, not friction, helps keep people happy and productive. 

That’s not always easy however: people are inundated by distractions at work, which makes it hard to get things done. You can help people achieve a flow state through clear goals, balancing skill and challenge, setting aside blocks of time, and minimizing distractions and context switching, among other tips. 

When you achieve flow, it can be easier to come up with creative ideas, connect to your work, and make the most of your skills. It’s a game-changer that can help your team reach your goals while creating a positive company culture people will want to be part of. 

When you work in dedicated, persistent project rooms in Switchboard you can bring everyone and everything you need together in one place. This lets you cancel more meetings and reduces context switching, making achieving flow easier. 

More flow, less burnout.
Switchboard unifies all your people, tools, and projects so work can flow without distractions.
Learn more

Stop, collaborate, and listen

Get product updates and Switchboard tips and tricks delivered right to your inbox.

You can unsubscribe at any time using the links at the bottom of the newsletter emails. More information is in our privacy policy.

You've been added to our newsletter full of tips and Switchboard updates.

You can unsubscribe at any time using the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More flow, less burnout.

Switchboard unifies all your people, tools, and projects so work can flow without distractions.