Team Success: Flow and Productivity
How we at OSP go from "no go" to "know flow" :-)
“From no go, to know flow.”
As professional writers, we need to be consistently productive. Getting into a flow state can be a huge help, but how can we achieve that consistently, too? At a recent team meeting, the OSPeas got together to share thoughts and tips on what works for us.
Writing well is challenging enough as it is, and as professional writers, we have to promise to deliver our best on a deadline, too! Beyond flow, down below, we've linked to other ways to stay productive even when flow eludes us.
The OSPeas dig into the big question of flow. What it is, how you enter it, stay in it, and what to do when it’s gone. Here are some tips that work for us. Our biggest takeaway: Remember to take breaks and forgive yourself on the days when you can’t get there.
Welcome to our Team Success series, where we explore team and individual success factors, and share what makes us tick. We're looking at the meaning and purpose of work, and how we can work more effectively for the benefit of everyone.
Let's chat! Get in touch if you want to talk about techniques that work for you!
Why we care about flow
Aah, flow. That beautiful state of being fully immersed in a task with energized focus. You don't notice the passage of time. The task feels effortless and smooth, and you have a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment afterward. We all want flow, but it often feels hard to achieve.
"Flow happens when the skill matches the challenge."—Dan Koe, Why fear of failure is destroying your future.
At a recent all-hands meeting, the OSPeas discussed flow state and our techniques for creating an environment where it's much more likely to happen when needed.
We are a remote-first, distributed team, so if you're not in the head office in Cologne, you're likely working from a home office. OSPeas come from a variety of places and life situations, so we have the usual array of pulls on our time and attention (like kids, pets, house renovations, you name it).
As a B2B content marketing agency for tech product and service companies, the nature of our work is fundamentally creative. Aside from regular administrative duties, we need stretches of time for writing, deep thinking, and strategic work. We need flow!
Here are some of our tips about creating the ideal circumstances for flow to happen and reducing the hindrances that get in the way of it. Everyone is different, so "your mileage may vary," as they say :-)
Four perspectives on achieving flow
1. Plan for flow.
Creating the space for flow to occur can be half the battle. Set yourself up for success by planning flow into your day.
Do: Master your time and calendar.
"Habit and routine are good for me," explains Jesi, "I do better when I know what my day will look like."
"Block out (large) chunks of time." This can be tricky, but Tracy's tip is to cluster meetings to create blocks of time in your calendar.
"It helps to know what time of day you're most productive," Christoph adds.
"Underestimating the time you'll need to complete a task" is a risk Carl feels when planning—this is known as the planning fallacy. A coder friend has internalized this, telling new bosses and colleagues, "Take any time estimate I make about how long I need to deliver the work, double it, and add ten percent." Know yourself, your quirks and your needs, and use your powers for good :-)
Chunking your time can help focus your concentration. Check out the Pomodoro Technique. Use a timer or an hourglass to break work into intervals.
"Plan post-flow time to come down," Joana blocks out time in her calendar after big task chunks. "After concentrating for a long time, I need some downtime. Especially coming off of Covid-19, my attention span can be limited. It's good to know that and plan around it." You might plan a walk or a cup of tea.
Avoid: Context switching and distractions
Context-switching is not conducive to flow, but it is the nature of the beast in so much of our time and lives now. Alongside turning off notifications and your ringtone, Carl says you should "factor in exercise, naps, and spouse commitments. If you know these in advance, you can plan around them."
"Have all the information you need for your task ready to go." A great tip from Christine: "First, gather whatever you need to complete the task—the content brief, the transcription, the images, the references, the data, and the research. Have all the puzzle pieces ready. Now just put them all together."
Bonus: Structural solutions.
A former OSPea knew herself well enough to know that she needed her phone in another room of the house for her to be able to ignore it. What sorts of structural solutions like this can you build into your work environment?
2. Turn on the tunes: Music
Get into the groove. We all agreed that music helps us get into the groove with our work. Most of us find lyricless genres are best.
The right music for the task at hand. "I got into flow recently because I was listening to upbeat music and enjoying my task."
"Familiar playlists can trigger flow for me," (a classic Pavlovian response), "I hear a particular track, and it can jump-start my concentration."
Reduce ambient distractions. One of us takes it one step further, saying that for him, a "closed-in" feeling helps. "Kind of like being in a room by myself," he wears his headphones even when he's by himself so that the music is directly in his ears, in his head, "keeping even more distractions away."
Our recommended Spotify playlists:
3. Build up a head of steam (sometimes you can force flow).
Just flow. Flow doesn't always happen. So can you manufacture flow? Our conversation delved into the Pavlovian aspects of habits and taking a 'brute-force' approach.
Take the time you need. "It takes a long time to get into flow," for Omar. Chris agrees, "I need ramp-up time."
Do little things first. Jam's tip: "You can build up a head of steam by doing little things first. I trick myself into flow by knocking off smaller, repetitive, or non-brain-intensive tasks. Admin, scanning receipts, formatting something often feels calming, and the calm leads to focus and flow."
One thing at a time. Tracy, back in the realm of the habitual, mentions atomic habits, and that sometimes "eating the elephant one bite at a time can kick you into flow."
Not getting there? In our business, you can't wait for inspiration to strike. Mental clarity is fragile, and we can't have flow every minute of every day.
We value process over our creativity for this very reason. We think structure is one of OSP's "superpowers," and you can have it, too!
- Have a look at how we use Content Briefs,
- rely on the OSP Writing and Editing Guide,
- and the OSP Editing Codes to help us when flow or inspiration escapes us.
4. Hindrances (know your enemies and how to defeat them).
Most of us need specific conditions for flow. Work these out and you're halfway there.
- For Chris "I need to be left alone."
- Jesi says "Being hungry interrupts my flow. I need snacks!"
- For Tracy, "I need sports & sleep!"
- Christoph agrees, "When I'm low-energy, I can't possibly get into anything like flow."
- Omar talks about neurodiversity and says that flow can depend on mood. "It's good to be in a good place. Once in flow, I'm like a racehorse."
- Felicity says, "I need to clear my plate of other household tasks," which we jokingly dubbed her 'procrasti-cleaning.'
- Tracy agrees that mess distracts her. She likes to declutter, turn off notifications, and have only the required tabs open.
- Christine agrees: "Switching tabs is the enemy."
Most importantly, be kind to yourself (always).
"Embrace the flow when it comes, but also embrace the non-flow," as Omar puts it. "Be kind to yourself. Recognize that if flow isn't happening for you today, accept that and choose a different task, perhaps one that is less creative or requires a different type of thinking." Some of us choose to go out in the fresh air, walk the dog, or have a nap.
What helps you find focus? What helps you recharge when you can’t find it? We’d love to know!
Get in touch!
Image Credits: From NO GO to KNOW FLOW image by Jeffrey A. McGuire and our robot overlords. Focus comic by MONKEYUSER.COM
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