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In The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo a red or blue pill, and the pill he chooses will determine his future. Each pill represents a different path: the red, a path to knowledge and truth that will forever change his life; while the blue is a path that will retain the status quo, living in willful ignorance.
For many, the blue pill at work looks like this: counting the hours until they can log off and trying to cram in all the tasks on their to-do list while battling constant distractions. The average person will spend about 90,000 hours of their life at work; for most, the only activity they will do more is sleep. So why are we willing to accept spending most of our days feeling overwhelmed, bored and unfocused?
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a red pill that provides a better future of work — that enables us to take control of our experience and enjoy what we do. The “red pill” in 2022 is the state of flow.
And while it may not be as simple as swallowing a magical pill, it’s well worth the effort. If we commit to optimizing our ability to flow, we will not only be better and more valuable employees, but we will also begin to find true joy in our work, leaving behind the status quo and moving towards a more productive future.
In today’s work, employees face a never-ending barrage of distractions — social media is at our fingertips, we work amidst roommates and family and our Slack never seems to stop dinging. And while each of these distractions inhibits our ability to enter flow, one is the most insidious (and the least spoken about): the company-wide messages. Before, if we wanted to ask a question or have a conversation with co-workers, we had to knock on their door or schedule a meeting. Now, we can send off messages all day long, and many employees are left with the feeling that they have to be available 100% of the time.
Slack, email and other messaging services are valuable tools, but they can also become methods of procrastination. To enable flow, we need to set boundaries around messaging services and communicate with our co-workers about when we are on “do not disturb.” Whether you put an emoji next to your name and turn off notifications to indicate you’re doing deep work or talking to your boss about scheduling time where you’re not to be disturbed, we need to find a way to release ourselves from the distractions that come with constant communication.
Companies and leaders can and should encourage this behavior: Erase the pressure on employees to be available 24/7 and empower them to tune out the noise (without guilt) for short periods each day to engage in deep work.
Flow needs to be scheduled
While the concept of “flow” may feel intangible, there are concrete actions we can take to achieve it — namely, scheduling and preparation, preparation, preparation. Block time out on your calendar for deep work like you would for your weekly meeting, create a to-do list for the scheduled time and assemble all the materials you need beforehand.
By setting yourself up for success and actively blocking out time in your calendar, you allow yourself to stop stressing about shallow work; your co-workers have been alerted and you can trust that you will be granted this time for deep work (unless it’s an emergency that can’t wait). Knowing you’ve done everything to prevent distractions allows your mind to zero in on the task without worry. Furthermore, when we block our time in advance, we reduce the chances that we will run out of willpower and be unable to “convince” ourselves to engage in deep work. No more post-lunch slumps or morning jitters — you’ve blocked the time, prepared accordingly and are ready to get to work.
Find your flow
Each individual’s approach to getting into flow will be different. What is important is that we give ourselves the chance to experiment with the environment that will best enable us to be in flow. My team is currently working with our employees to facilitate this experimentation and help them find their own unique set of circumstances for deep work. From figuring out how to set up your environment in a way that looks best to you, knowing what you have to do to prepare to get into flow and finally documenting what worked best for you when you reached that zen state — we are attempting to break down finding flow into a science.
What type of environment, preparation and documentation do you need to consistently enter flow? It is not a one-size-fits-all approach — what works for your co-worker may not work for you. But once you figure it out, whether it be buying a new office chair, turning off your notifications or lighting a candle, you will be amazed at how quickly those 90 minutes fly by.
Take the red pill
In Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that if we spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, we permanently reduce our capacity to perform deep work. The internet and social media have already shortened our attention spans, and our ability to focus is lessening every day.
We have to ask — are we willing to accept this as our permanent reality?
We can find more joy in our work and become more valuable employees, but only if we commit to cultivating an environment that encourages deep work every day. Do not be tempted by the blue pill and the status quo — take the red pill, find your flow and watch yourself flourish.