The Flow State is not restricted to people doing extreme sports like surfing or downhill biking, flow helps you to be more productive and focussed even in your daily business at your desk. I will show you how to reach that state with my 11 favourite hacks for flow at work.
“But how could I ever get into Flow when I’m sitting in an open office with people interrupting me all the time?” The man called Sam who approached me after my presentation on Flow at the last Biohacker Summit in London was frustrated with me. He felt the concept of Flow was elusive to him, that in his line of work, he wasn’t able to obtain the powerful state of heightened consciousness, laser-sharp focus and constructive creativity. Indeed, in his scenario, Flow doesn’t happen. After talking to Sam, I began brainstorming what methods I had come across that could apply to people in an office environment. I started modelling a typical day and found 11 ways to hack flow at work in an office environment. These are also the 11 Powerful Hacks for Work that I presented at the Biohacker Summit in Helsinki.
You can look at all of those 11 hacks as potential habits. You don’t need to include all of them in your day but the more you include, the more you set yourself up for maximum flow time.
1 – Define goals
Flow follows focus and that’s why it is so important to be clear what you want to do. Take a piece of paper and write down your most goals that you want to accomplish. Go from long-term goals (getting into a healthy relationship, earning a certain amount per year, building a house, staying healthy) to 3-month goals (losing 10 kg, running a marathon, launching a new product) to weekly goals (eating healthy every night, going to yoga at least twice this week, finishing work by 6PM every night). Write down as many goals as you can.
After the brainstorming session, go through the goals and decide on your 5 most important ones in each category. Then go on to step 2 where you decide why these goals actually matter to you.
2 – Find purpose for Flow
Before you even try to put yourself into the Flow State, think about why you want to have Flow in the first place. Think of Flow as a super state in a video game that you can only switch into for a certain amount of time. Meeting a deadline or launching the Christmas campaign is not a purpose, these are results. A purpose would be to meet the deadline in order to have a stress-free weekend or to deliver on a promise. Launching the campaign could have the purpose of providing customers with awesome gift ideas. Once you identify the purpose, it will be that much easier to focus on the important stuff and find flow. Now what do you want to achieve in this powerful state and why? Here is how you can go about it:
My advice: Write down all your major goals from step 1 and identify the purpose behind them.
|Send out the Newsletter||To provide your readers with valuable content for the weekend|
|Fill out business plan numbers||To make prudent business decisions for the upcoming year|
|YOUR RESULT||YOUR PURPOSE|
write the following sentence and sign it below: “I promise to myself to have a productive week and finish at least the five most important tasks.” Making a promise with your future self has shown to be quite effective because our brains look at our future selfs more like well-known but different people and not like our present selves. Giving yourself a promise is a powerful trigger for flow because we as self-reflective individuals hate to disappoint others including our future selves.
3 – Visualize yourself in Flow
Visualization is a powerful tool of the mind that can help you get clarity on what needs to be done. You can integrate this in your evening meditation practice or combine it with writing into your journal at night. This is how it works: Think about your most important task for tomorrow and picture yourself working at it. See yourself, the clothes you wear, smell the coffee next to your arm, look around the office environment, notice your colleagues and the items on your desk. Now think about yourself being completely undistracted, nobody and nothing is bothering you. Now think about all the steps and go through them mentally. It could look like this:
Most important task: Send out the Friday newsletter
- Write email text
- Link to articles and products in the email
- Include images and size them correctly
- Find catchy headline
- Send out a test mail and check all the links
- Include the whole email list and press send
Now do it yourself for your next important task!
4 – Create a morning routine to trigger Flow
We are creatures of habits and the more constructive our habits, the easier it will be for us to do what we actually want to do. Habits can be handcuffs or catapults and they take quite some time to create or also to get rid of. Start small and create a routine in form of a trigger for work. This could be as easy as a cup of coffee before you sit down at your desk. An example for a healthy morning routine could be:
- Wake up
- Think about three things you are grateful for
- Shower cold and brush teeth
- Make coffee
- Go to the office and start work
5 – Create a distraction free zone
Interruption is like kryptonite for Flow. Any disruption of your focus, anything that grabs your attention away from your most important task, will kick you out of flow. This includes annoying colleagues, phone calls, social media messages, alarms, notifications, emails, and your own thoughts about whatever jumps randomly into your head. There are a couple ways how you can go about this in a noisy office environment:
- Minimize interruptions by telling colleagues that you are occupied with work.
- Put your phone into airplane mode.
- Disable all app notifications on your phone.
- Log out of Facebook and other Social Media accounts.
- Use a device like the Pavlok to train yourself to stay off certain websites.
- Listen to music that gets you into Flow (in the next step, I will tell you what kind of beats I listen to).
- Prepare your coffee, tea or water in advance
- Go to the bathroom one more time
Once your plan is clear and you are in a fairly distraction-free zone, it’s time to get stuff done.
6 – Work in blocks of 25 minutes
Three hours can be intimidating whereas three minutes might be enough to respond to a short email. A proven time frame to get maximum results is a block of 25 uninterrupted minutes. This is called the Pomodoro Technique. This is how it works:
- Start a timer for 25 minutes. This time block is called a Pomodoro.
- Work on only one task during the 25 minutes.
- If you get distracted, start anew.
- When the timer ends, take a short break of up to 5 minutes, take a breath, drink a sip of water and start another one. If you need to, quickly check your email or phone but really only, if you need to.
- If you are in deep flow once the timer ends, just restart it and keep working.
Pomodoros are great to keep track of time and focus your attention. This will help tremendously in triggering Flow. At the end of the day, you will feel more productive because you’ve measured your productive time and most likely will have completed your most important task and maybe even more.
7 – Hack your brain waves with binaural beats
Brainwaves are a measurement of the frequency that neurons are firing in your brain in order to communicate. Your dominant brainwaves depend on what situation you are in. This is called the brain wave state. When you are awake and going about your day, you are typically in a fairly fast beta wave state. When you are in deep sleep, your dominant brainwave is usually delta. Meditation is associated with theta and flow usually happens in between alpha and theta. This subject requires more attention in future articles but in the meantime, you can already hack your brainwaves by listening to certain tunes, called binaural beats.
Binaural beats are an auditory biohack helping you to influence your neuroelectricity. Binaural beats are a method used in so called brainwave entrainment and happen when you put one sound at one frequency in one ear and another sound at a slightly different frequency in your other ear. This means that there is an almost unnotciable difference in sound coming into your left and right ear. This explains the name combining the terms bi (meaning two) and aural (of the ear). This technique creates an auditory phenomenon called beating. The size of the gap in frequency between the left and right ear will be the frequency of the beating. This is the target frequency for your brainwave entrainment.
There are a bunch of binaural beats on Soundcloud and Youtube. We are working on developing sounds ourselves to perfectly match the effect you’re looking for (flow, trance, sleep or concentration). For now, check out this track to enhance concentration and focus.
8 – Fast intermittently
This kind of fasting cycle is repeated daily. The fasting period is between 14 and 18 hours. During fasting, no or very few carbohydrates are added to the body. This helps the body to enter ketosis faster and keep your blood sugar levels steady. I generally recommend that you combine fasting with a fatty drink (e.g., a Biohacker Coffee). The good fat from the butter and the C8 oil satisfy and can be quickly converted into energy by the liver.
By fasting, you will keep your metabolism fairly stable and you will have more mental energy at your disposal. I usually have my most productive days when fasting, especially when I start with a fatty coffee. This keeps me energized without any hunger cravings for hours!
9 – Stay focused with self-administered punishment
One a bit more controversial hack is using some sort of self-administered punishment like an electrical shock. My friend and Biohacking colleague Maneesh Sethi developed the Pavlok, a wristband with a battery hooked up to Bluetooth, which shocks you when you press it. You can also hook it up to your computer and create scenarios, e.g. you can set up a shock whenever you go on Facebook or any other site that usually distracts you.
Warning: Pavlok has been on Shark Tank recently and has caused quite some controversy. I am using it occasionally and so far, it has worked quite well for me.
For the careful ones, I think a snapping wrist rubber band would also do the job. However, if you’re interested in finding out more, listen to my podcast episode with the Pavlok founder Maneesh Sethi.
10 – Combine chocolate with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor
One of the more recent flow hacks that I’ve come across is slowing down the breakdown of a flow enhancing chemical in chocolate. Chocolate contains a trace amine called phenylethylamine, which is associated with the feelings of trust, joy and happiness when you eat a lot of cacao or chocolate. Phenylethylamine is usually broken down by monoamine oxidase B (MAO) so you can effectively inhibit the breakdown of this powerful and goodfeeling chemical by consuming a MAOI or monoamine oxidase inhibitor. While cacao has some but little MAOI properties, a wonderful natural MAOI happens to be cinnamon. That’s why we put both in our wonderfully tasting Winter-Edition of the Flowgrade Chocolate.
11 – Limit your ressources
Many of us consume waaaaay too much, not only Netflix shows but also constructive stuff, such as reading books or listening to podcasts. While this information can be tremendously beneficial at times, it sometimes can also cause simulatory overload. At the end, we all want to keep the capacity to come up with our own ideas and this can’t happen, when we’re just human tape recorders playing the sound of others’ ideas. I kept it general with ressources because I think that you can actually apply it to many different things including time, money, information, food ingredients or experiences. Limiting your time to work on something can also help to counteract Parkinson’s Law, which states that work will expand to the time available for it. Or in other words: You will keep yourself busy and procrastinate if you have too much time for something. So try to limit yourself! I credit this recent epiphany with a tremendous surge in productivity.
That’s it for now! I am limiting myself to 11 hacks even though there are tons more. There is value in restraint and at this point, I would like to ask you to give me feedback. One point is enough. What do you think of these 11 flow hacks for work? Let me know below in the comments.