deep work and flow state in the remote work era

Saturday November 12th 2022 by SocraticDev

When our working tool is the intellect, the ability to maintain deep concentration for a long period of time can make all the difference between great successes and ordinary results.

Has the ability to work remotely really freed us from office hell: noisy spaces and endless distractions; unwanted chatter and interruptions to our work?

Remote work and the new trend of "collaborative work" may have aggravated this scourge of the 21st century: the chronic deterioration of our ability to concentrate on a task for long periods of time. Clinging to the udder of digital collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack, group work may have contributed to the gradual decrease in our ability to stay focused on a task for the time it takes to complete it.

Here's a challenge that's much harder than it looks: sit still, focused on a project continuously for 90 minutes. Without email, without message, and without alternating between several tasks.


What do we mean by "flow state" and "deep work"? It may seem like a cold, elitist ideal; a reality intended for a few overexcited entrepreneurs.

I do not agree.

As much a cook, a bank manager as an electrician can benefit from a state of mindfulness.

flow state

The flow state is a mental state characterized by total concentration on a task. A state of total immersion where you lose track of time. Athletes call this state: "being in the zone".

Popularized by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, flow state describes a feeling where, under the right conditions, you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing.

“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback,” Csikszentmihalyi said in a 2004 TED Talk. Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura reached this conclusion by interviewing a variety of self-actualized, high-performing people: including mountain climbers, chess players, surgeons, and ballet dancers. --Headspace, "What it means to be in a flow state"

Partisans of the flow state argue that a truly human life is not a life of leisure, but rather a life filled with challenges overcame by our faculties of concentration and commitment.

deep work

Deep work is a professional activity carried out in a state of attention and concentration that pushes one's cognitive abilities to their limits. youtube "--Deep Work by Cal Newport (animated book summary) - How to work deeply"

Deep work is a skill acquired through practice and the adoption of sound practices. It is about leading our mind with intention, avoiding being manipulated by distractions and addiction to instant gratification.

The ability to concentrate on deep work, Cal argues, is one of the most valuable skills that a person can bring to their job and the economy at large. Deep work produces valuable assets, innovative ideas, and impactful outcomes. Yet it is also increasingly rare. --Trello - "Is A Deep Work Deficiency Stifling Your Productivity? An Interview With Cal Newport"

our ennemies

Many obstacles stand in the way of freeing our minds: colleagues who do not respect our needs for serenity, the symphony of notifications outputted by our digital devices, social media addiction, etc. We call these enemies to improving our minds: external distractions.

Even worse, our own mind is too often our worst enemy! Mind scholars compare our mind to a monkey or a constantly thrashing hamster. Our mind is naturally restless. Better learn to tame it. We call these enemies of deep focus: internal distractions.

external distractions

External distractions are the easiest to silence. We can disable notifications from our computer and smartphone. We can even turn off our phone during our deep work sessions. Impossible to turn off our colleagues, but it is still possible to retire to a quieter area for a deep work session.

It should be noted that we are talking about a deep work session. It is not necessary to go into exile to a monastery!

We learn to alternate between superficial work sessions (meetings, collaboration sessions between colleagues) and deep work sessions where all our attention is paid to our work.

internal distractions

The fact remains that the greatest enemy to achieving the state of flow is our own mind. Our mind is continually active. This internal dialogue, the fact that we talk to ourselves, must be taken care of.

One must calm their own mind; learn to master it.

Scheduled meditation practice is an effective way to tame an overactive mind. It is scientifically proven that meditation increases our concentration potential, decreases our inner dialogue and improves our well-being.

Journaling is also a great way to clear our mind. Writing allows us to channel the doldrums of ideas and emotions that bog down our minds. By freeing our mind, we preserve its energy.

The torment of ideas that follow one another without being able to escape can be exhausting, right?

We want our minds to be generators of high quality ideas. Not storage spaces where to store them!

our rewards

Gaining mastery over our mind promises multiple rewards. Denying instant gratifications from social media and entertainment yields healthier benefits:

  • improved mood
  • increased ability to concentrate
  • ability to learn and acquire new skills faster
  • improved creativity
  • improvement of the quality of group cooperation
  • noticeable improvement in productivity and performance

sources - How To Protect Your Focus And Reach ‘Flow State’ - Headspace, "What it means to be in a flow state" - Trello - "Is A Deep Work Deficiency Stifling Your Productivity? An Interview With Cal Newportt" - "Deep Work by Cal Newport (animated book summary) - How to work deeply" - Delphis, "Foster a flow state for better work performance and health"