Thriving away from distractions: Delving into deep work and flow states
Over the past few years we’ve been taught how to squeeze every last drop from every day. Paradigms of success, self-optimisation, and extreme productivity have created the illusion that multitasking, pervasive connectivity and constant activity equate to professional or academic success.
Actually, it is this hurried mindset and the constant information stream we are subjected to, that ultimately creates a hostile environment for focused, deep thinking — the precursor to producing value in work or study.
Dennis Overbye, former Boeing scientist and New York Times writer describes the vast, incomprehensible nature of the information we compute every day.
He says it contains “more and more information about our lives—where we shop and what we buy, indeed, where we are right now—the economy, the genomes of countless organisms we can’t even name yet, galaxies full of stars we haven’t counted, traffic jams in Singapore, and the weather on Mars.”
And how do we receive it? The information “tumbles faster and faster through bigger and bigger computers down to everybody’s fingertips, which are holding devices with more processing power than the Apollo mission control.” - Fast Company
In 2011 Americans absorbed five times more information than they did in 1986. Nine years on (during which time we witnessed the rise of Instagram, resurgence of podcasting and applications like Blinkist which condense non-fiction books into 15 minute summaries, just to name a few stimuli) one can imagine that this has only increased again.
Though we’ve climatised to an onslaught of information, how do we actually process it? The answer is: not very well.
According to Daniel Levitin in his article Why It’s So Hard to Pay Attention, Explained By Science, “our brains have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired.”
Our brains are wired with a novelty bias - making us particularly susceptible to distraction. According to Levitin again, “multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”
However tempting it may be, it’s clear that multitasking and distraction hinders focused, deep work, ideation, creative thinking and learning. So how can we overcome this?
First, let’s explore the pinnacle of uninterrupted work: flow state.
What is flow state?
Headspace describes Flow State as a “sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum”.
The section that stands out the most to us is ‘totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction’. Whether you are writing an annual report or a thesis, it is prolonged periods of uninterrupted focus, clear space for thought and time to ruminate ideas that will produce the most valuable, impactful outcomes.
In our ‘age of distraction’ how do we create an environment for lifelong learning, creative thinking and ideation that could lead to deeper work and even tapping into your flow state?
How to create an environment for focus and deep work
Clear the physical space
It’s important to clear away distractions - literally. That means keeping a clean, tidy workspace without unnecessary clutter like printed documents, receipts, half-drunk cups of coffee or whatever else finds its way to your desk.
If you’d like to learn more about keeping an organised workspace, you might like this episode of How I Work featuring Rice University Professor Scott Sonenshein who co-authored a book on simplifying and organising your work life with Marie Kondo (a note from us: just listen, no multitasking!).
Eliminate digital distractions
When undertaking deeper work, it’s essential to remove digital distractions. That means putting your phone and computer on ‘do not disturb’, closing emails and avoiding common distraction traps - like social media or mindless scrolling of news and other media sites. When working in any particular program, close down all others.
Research by Glenn Wilson cited in The Guardian suggests that “being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an email is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.” It’s simple: to focus, ideate and produce work of value, distractions must be eliminated.
We created myhaventime as a calm, secure space away from the information onslaught, so continuous learning, creative thinking, ideation and deep work can occur without distraction.
Unlike other platforms, myhaventime features no advertising and your data is 100% secure. Typically when your data is passed on to third parties, the cycle continues as you are retargeted or fed additional advertising and information from new sources. myhaventime will never sell your data to third parties.
Our interface is also intentionally calm and simple, making the pathway to your information streamlined. There is no unnecessary stimulation to provoke distraction.
Your myhaventime dashboard features only the rooms you create, contribute to, or elect to keep (we provide rooms to inspire your journey as you begin with myhaventime, but these can be removed if preferred).
Within each room is an ecosystem of learnings, inspiration, ideas and insights to be revisited and built upon over time. It is your space to store, access and develop knowledge - all without distraction.
Delegate time for continuous learning and deep thinking
Identify the times of the day where you can focus without interruptions from colleagues, peers, family or others. Perhaps it’s early in the morning before your colleagues filter into the office, or after dinner when your family has settled down for the evening. Schedule this time as you would any other commitment.
If you know your resolve wavers after a busy day, or you need a prompt to keep on track with your personal growth or professional development, activating the myhaventime Virtual Learning Coach will send you regular reminders to revisit and contribute to your rooms.
Focus, deep work and flow states all take time and perseverance to achieve which is why the Virtual Learning Coach is particularly helpful - providing a reminder to commit to your lifelong learning or creative endeavours no matter how busy or distracted you may feel.
In our distracted world it’s no easy feat, but conscious steps must be taken to create a physical and digital environment away from the white noise of the world so we can learn, create, think and ideate in order to produce insights and work of real value. As Haruki Murakami writes in his collection of short stories The Elephant Vanishes, “the power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening one’s eyes without seeing anything.”
Are you a lifelong learner looking for a secure, quiet space to grow your knowledge and ideas? Are you a student struggling to focus? Do you work in a corporate environment but fail to produce actionable, impactful insights because you’re constantly distracted?