Lessons on Leadership

How to Cultivate Flow in the Workplace

By Jacquelyn Adams

Many athletes and artists call it “the zone.” Psychologists refer to it as having “flow.” For me, it is that happy place where time disappears, regardless of whether I am cleaning, writing or running. Suddenly, the task is nearly mindless and effortless. It is a natural extension of myself, so smooth that this moment feels preordained. Too often, we stumble into flow accidentally, rather than cultivating habits and rhythms that naturally lead us there. So in this article, we will explore what we can do to make our work more effective, and eliminate some of our stress load.

Find Your zone

One of the trickiest parts of getting into the zone is understanding the trigger. Maybe it happens more naturally when we run, but what does running have to do with the workplace? Musician Diane Allen offered a few examples of how people could transfer their flow in her November 2019 TED talk “How to find ‘flow’ (and lose yourself in it).” The cyclist realized that being part of a team created his flow, so he could center himself by focusing on his role in the company and how others rely on him. By engaging with her lab equipment when speaking to the board members about her work, the scientist was connected with her sense of exploration and felt more comfortable. And my flow lies in tomorrow. Exercising today makes tomorrow’s workout better. Getting this work done now means less stress tomorrow. When I focus on creating a better tomorrow, the task gets more manageable and hopeful. It might take some introspection and time, but finding the key to your flow is a very worthwhile investment.

Trigger Your flow

There are two main approaches to triggering your flow. Many athletes or musicians use visualization. In the same way, once you know the trigger to your flow, you could keep it in mind and visualize writing up those reports or running the tests. See in your mind exactly how the task should be accomplished, and then live what you saw. Unfortunately, I have never been a visualizer, but I can get behind a good mantra. Mine can vary depending on the day and whether I am amping myself up for cleaning, or going into the zen mode for writing. Still, the theme revolves around a more substantial or less stressful tomorrow. And, yes, getting into the flow takes time. But if five minutes makes me do the task in half the time, then my employers and I support that investment.

Stretch Your flow

Finally, it is essential for personal growth that we don’t just limit our flow to the spaces that it naturally appears. We need to branch out into new quadrants and keep pushing those boundaries. But, yes, of course, if we are trying to tackle an unattainable goal all at once, then the zone will also be unattainable. However, by gradually stretching ourselves, we will create a more versatile flow that can help us conquer more complex tasks. Our flow is just like a muscle in our body — we are the ones who will decide if it atrophies or if we strengthen it and make it more nimble. While flow is sometimes called the zone, it should not be limited to one specific zone in our lives.

Let’s end with a bit of visualization (I know, typically not my thing, but I’m game if you are). Think of the last time you were in the zone. See it in your mind’s eye. What were you doing? How did it feel? What were your thoughts and feelings when you came back to yourself? Now, imagine that feeling extrapolated throughout your life. In my life, it involves an increase in productivity and peace as I try to apply my flow in new ways. This isn’t something just for elite athletes and musicians. It can improve our lives too. So whether at home, the office, or a workout room, I hope we can strive to keep the flow in mind and push ourselves to the next level.

Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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