The Symbiosis of Deep Work and Flow

The Symbiosis of Deep Work and Flow: reinventing How You Work

How much of your day do you think is spent on really focused work? The periods of absolute focus, where you’re in the zone and feeling one with the task at hand? There are different kinds of work – deep work and flow. These are the kinds of work we want to aim for every time that we focus, but what do they really mean and how do we get there?

Creating Space for Deep Work

Deep work has been defined as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work is essential to productivity and success and should be a skill and mindset that everyone aims to master. Technology is evolving and we are seeing incredible leaps in AI and technological genius. So, in order to keep up with the pace at which our world is moving, we need to be having these periods of deep work in order to do our best work and keep up with the demands.

Cal Newport, who coined the term deep work in 2016, created a formula to reach the highest quality of work and be as productive as possible. The formula goes like this: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus). As simple and as complex as that. The quality of the work we create is determined by the time spent on the task and the intensity at which we place focus on the task.

Since the coining of ‘Deep Work’, it has been a phenomenon that many have chased as their ideal space to work in. But it has been discovered that deep work alone is not enough to reach the highest quality work and optimum productivity. Deep work needs flow in order to be the optimised state we know it as.

Adding Flow into the Mix

The Symbiosis of Deep Work and Flow

If deep work is the ability to reach a state of mind in which one can work on a task without distraction, then what is flow? Well, flow is the ability to remain in that state. For optimum productivity, we need both, and this is where we may be getting it wrong. Deep work and flow often aren’t discussed in the symbiotic relationship in which they co-exist, yet they desperately need the other to be enhanced.  

Some people describe the state of flow as time melting away. You know those days where you are so focused that you glance at the clock, and it’s been hours? That is what flow feels like. It is also known as being in the zone, which we all have felt at one point or another. Flow is great and we can be fully immersed in the task, but we still need that deep work to ensure that when we are in flow our productivity levels are as high as possible.

These states of being are incredibly powerful because this is where growth occurs. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who theorised flow, says that “humans are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.” What challenging means for one person may not be for the next person, but that is the nature of individuality. A person grows when skill and challenge are equal. Flow is an enhancing function of deep work, yet without deep work, it simply cannot be reached.

Reaching Deep Work and Flow

Deep work and flow are desirable states for everyone, for some, it will come more naturally than others. Either way, here are some tips on getting into these states. Start with your goals. Goal setting is an incredibly important skill and can be learnt through practice. Begin looking ahead and create some trackable long-term goals, and then look at the short term and pick smaller goals that are going to help you reach those long-term goals.

The next tip is to match the challenges you take on with your skill. Ever taken on a task that is so easy it makes you bored? Or have you ever taken on a task that is so challenging that you give up? This is an unequal balance of skill and challenge, and it is a huge inhibiter of deep work and flow. Make sure that the skill is challenging enough that you remain engaged with the task for the duration of the task and don’t become bored, but not so challenging and impossible that you give up.

Flow builds up and the momentum that is created in finishing easier tasks builds so that you can tackle harder tasks. So, the tip here is to order the tasks in order of easiest to hardest and make that the priority list. Think of the tasks in jumps, the first jump is little and needs to be completed to add momentum for a bigger jump next. Get into the flow with a simpler task and then let that momentum lead into the next task.

Reinventing the Way That You Work

When you are successfully able to master deep work which leads to flow, it will change the way that you work. Success, productivity and good quality work are the benefits of investing in deep work and flow. Spend less time distracted and more time in a deep state of focus with deep work and flow, I promise it will change your work life!

Hey! You’re Biased! – #25 Procrastination…We’re All Guilty

Procrastination…ouch! But yes, we’re going there! Procrastination is the enemy of deep work and flow, which is why it must be addressed. Simply put, procrastination is the avoidance of a task that must be done. Every person is guilty of putting a more pleasurable task in front of a less enjoyable task that has higher priority. Perhaps we can reframe the pleasure of anything (a walk, chocolate, time spent scrolling) as a reward for doing the tasks that have to get done, instead of doing them in place of the urgent tasks. Let’s get unbiased!

References –

The Cosmopolitan Mindset. (2021). Deep work and flow: The best techniques to complete any project. The Cosmopolitan Mindset.

Cherry, K. (2022). What is a flow state? Very Well Mind.

Martins, J. (2022). 6 tips to harness the power of flow state at work. Asana.

Wieruch, R. (2017). (Deep Work) -> flow – A proven path to satisfaction. RWieruch.

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