How to Get in the Zone at Work

Flow at Work

Ahh, being in the zone.

You’re on top of everything. Blazing through your to-do list, casting away distractions, taking over the world. You’re laser-focused on one thing after another and everything’s going your way. You’re untouchable.

Then it fades away. You try to get that focus back, but it’s just not there. You go back to IMing coworkers. You peek at Twitter. No more zone for you.

What is “the zone”?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt discusses the phenomenon in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. I’ve mentioned this book before because it’s life-changing. Go read it right now.

The technical name for being in the zone is “flow”. Frequent, intense periods of flow are crucial for a happy, fulfilling life. Especially in your career.

How to create flow at work

It’s surprisingly easy to get in the zone once you create the right conditions.

1.) Choose a challenging task within your abilities

Manufacture mini-challenges for yourself, even if your job itself is less-than-challenging. Make sure none of them are impossible given your abilities, though. Here are some ideas:

  1. Give yourself a time limit on a particular task and work to the deadline.
  2. Ask your coworker how fast they think you can do something, then aim to do it faster.
  3. Take on a project that would normally be slightly too tough for you, then do it.

I’ve found that my work “attention span” is about 1.25 hours. I can maintain intense concentration for that long, then it fades. Find your attention span and design your challenges to maximize it.

Caffeine and electronica music help me concentrate too :-).

2.) Create a constant reinforcement of progress

This is so important.

Break up your big task into little chunks, order them smallest to largest, and cross off each one as you do it. The feeling of crossing off item after item is the reinforcement of progress you need to get “in the zone”. And the quicker they get done, the quicker you’ll get to the flow state.

A to-do list program like Workflowy works great for organizing tasks like this. But a notebook works too.

3.) Stop, Rest, Start Again

Once your deadline has passed, take a break and rest. Revel in your new-found productivity for awhile! You did great, and you feel great.

Then, when you’re ready, use this process to get back into the zone again.

Give this a shot today and see how well you do!