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Being "in the zone" is often talked about by athletes and top performers around the world. But psychology has revealed that this state (also called the flow state) can be achieved during any intentional activity, including working from home.
Getting in the zone is no simple task. Reaching the flow state requires a balance of high skill and challenge, but it can be easy to lose focus in today’s digital era. Thankfully, there are numerous practical and emotional triggers that can help you achieve a flow state. Here's a list of strategies that can help you achieve a flow state while working digitally.
1. Listen to Specialized Audio
Music is a well-known flow state trigger and is one of the simplest ways you can heighten concentration while working. This method is easy to apply to your digital work sessions—all you need is a decent pair of headphones.
Brain.fm is a collection of functional music designed to help you focus. The science-backed music has been used alongside fMRI and EEG brain scanning technology, demonstrating its effectiveness against normal music.
You can listen to a sample of the music on the Brain.fm YouTube channel. However, the Brain.fm app is where you’ll find the best features. The app relies on a subscription-based model, however, you can try out the app for free with its trial.
The focus tab is where you’ll find the most useful music for studying, with categories covering ‘deep work’ and ‘creative flow.’ There’s also the meditate tab, which can be practical for getting your mind tuned in preparation for work. Assigning attention to your mind and body is a powerful flow state trigger, so combining meditation with work is a helpful tactic you might wish to try.
Download: Brain.fm for Android | iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)
Noisli is another tool with a range of sounds to help you concentrate while working. When it comes to choosing the best music to focus on, there’s often no one-size-fits-all solution. Noisli, on the other hand, offers many varied sounds that you can experiment with. A highlight of this tool is the ability to mix and match ambient sounds, such as adding rainfall to the sounds of a vast forest. You can also tweak the volume of each sound environment to adapt your listening experience.
Download: Noisli for Android | iOS (Paid, $1.99)
2. Set Clear Goals
Many people practice detailed goal-setting, like using SMART criteria for long-term targets. While this is beneficial, what is less focused on is goal-setting on a micro level: the individual steps you can take to succeed in your daily work.
There are many simple approaches to using this small-scale goal-setting method. At the start of a digital work session, you can open a lightweight note-taking app to jot down your intentions for the work session ahead. This can be a few bullet points or some indented bullets for subtasks. The My Day feature of Microsoft To Do is a convenient space that you can try out.
Setting clear, concise goals is one of several known triggers that can help you get into flow state. Having a clear idea of what your next step is, allows you to retune to the context of the present moment and expands your awareness to increase productivity. Small-scale goal-setting is also crucial for self-assessment and reflection, both of which emphasize feelings of progress at work.
3. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions
This is one of the more obvious flow state triggers, but its importance cannot be stressed enough in today’s age. In formulating a definition for flow state, many involve assigning ‘complete attention’ to the task at hand.
Working digitally often presents far more distractions than working in person. If you’re working on a desktop computer, turning off your mobile or putting it into Do Not Disturb mode is one easy tactic you can apply. If you still find it tempting to pick up your phone, you can try placing it on the other side of the room to direct your full attention to what you’re working on.
Even with your phone switched off, there are many distractions lurking on your desktop computer that can prevent you from getting in the zone. If you’re working inside a browser, it can be incredibly easy to break off from what you’re working on, and with features such as autofill and bookmarks, accessing irrelevant pages is an easy trap to fall for. Thankfully, there is a range of browser extensions that block distractions you can try to keep your mind focused on one thing at a time.
If you’re a Windows user, you can also explore Windows 11’s new Focus Sessions to stop unnecessary pop-up notifications from taking you out of the zone. This sophisticated tool features a timer with breaks enabled, and an integrated tab for Microsoft To Do tasks. This is a great option to combine the former strategy of clear goal-setting with a distraction-free workspace.
4. Adopt an Organized Digital Environment
One of the most difficult aspects of working digitally is maintaining a clean environment. With open tabs and windows littered across your desktop, you can easily lose the immersion factor needed to achieve flow state. Acquiring efficient methods to organize what’s on your desktop will greatly help maximize productivity in your work sessions and help induce flow.
Creating multiple desktops to separate content is one way to achieve this. On Windows, you can select the Task view icon next to the search bar to view and create desktops (or use the keyboard shortcut Windows + Tab if you’re still on Windows 10). Mac users can also achieve this in Mission Control.
You can use this to separate related windows into broader categories, such as one desktop for work-oriented tabs and another for social media and messaging sites. The same concept can be applied to browser windows: simply store all closely-related tabs in one window. Chrome and many other browsers give the ability to name windows to help you clarify what each window holds—simply right-click the window title bar and select Name Window…
Get in the Zone and Soar Through Your Work With These Practical Tips
Being in the zone is a fragile state. Minor distractions while working can easily throw you off, sometimes without you noticing. But incorporating these strategies will put you in the right direction toward this blissful mental state. Try these four tips tailored to digital work to soar through your workload and multiply your productivity.
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