Flow and deep concentration: creating a productive working environment

Flow is a powerful tool to improve your performance. At Easy LMS we stimulate the flow state. Because, well, the price of distraction is bigger than you can imagine. 

Owl in flow, totally zen.
Jeroen
Written by Jeroen Founder / CEO / CSO
Posted on
Reading time 7 minutes

There are a lot of distractions at the office, which makes it difficult to get "real" work done. Phone calls, questions from colleagues, and on top of that answering an emergency email - all stop you from getting absorbed by your project. Do you recognize this? At Easy LMS we try to limit the distractions as much as possible, so we can work in undivided and concentrated blocks of time. Because when you can work in deep concentration you get more done, you provide better quality, and ultimately obtain more personal growth.

Getting into your flow

We believe that it is important for people to reach their personal best. However, that is only possible in an environment where you can get into a state of flow. Once you are in a flow, you are completely focused on your work, you forget the time, and you lose yourself in your task. You will definitely not be disturbed every twelve minutes. Research shows that office workers are indeed disturbed every twelve minutes!

You can only get into a flow if the following conditions have been met:

  • You know what to do; there is a clear target.
  • You can concentrate long enough on one task.
  • You are personally in control of the situation, and the work.
  • You enjoy performing the task. 
  • You cannot be disturbed. You will not be distracted.
  • Your skills are in balance with the challenge that the task entails.

Flow chart

This last condition is very important. After all, if the challenge is too great, you will get stressed. Stress reduces your skills and you might make mistakes. But a task that is too easy can also cause an accumulation of errors. In other words, your task must be challenging enough, but not too challenging. You are walking a thin line.  

Deep concentration

Practice makes perfect. This also applies to the work that we do at Easy LMS. We train our brains on a daily basis. This requires deep concentration. Within the flow you look for the upper limit of your capabilities. This often means that you do something that just goes beyond your comfort zone. When you do something you are not yet comfortable with, you are more susceptible to things that increase comfort, such as distraction. The latter can be avoided if you concentrate on your work without being disturbed. The advantage is that you kill two birds with one stone. You get better at your job, and you deliver the best performance in that moment, which the bosses will like 😉

This process is certainly not easy. You can only work on the edge of your abilities if you:

  • Are fit and full of energy.
  • Are motivated to develop yourself.
  • Feel good about yourself.

At Easy LMS we like to help (future) colleagues to get better.

The cost of distraction

The top three reasons why getting better often fails:

  1. Distraction.
  2. Distraction.
  3. Distraction.
In the fifteen minutes after you have been disturbed, there is a 50% greater chance of making errors.

Most offices, like ours used to be in the past, are not at all setup for long-term concentration. The open, noisy office gardens where everyone comes and goes for example. But we can’t forget the impact of email, internal chat tools, meetings, and open diaries. Not to mention the addictive effect of the internet and smartphones.

You will take a slightly different view if you know that distracting somebody is a costly business:

  1. In the fifteen minutes after you have been disturbed, there is a 50% greater chance of making errors. Research has shown this. This is partly due to your short-term memory. When you are disturbed, you immediately lose everything you had in your short-term memory.
  2. When you are disturbed, you lose your flow and your deep concentration. It will take some time to get back into your flow and even longer to get back into deep concentration. Until then, you do not perform optimally.
  3. When you switch tasks, a part of your brain is still thinking of your previous task. You cannot fully dedicate yourself to the new task yet. Constantly switching tasks therefore creates a so-called "attention residue".
  4. Each task has a start-up time, in addition to the time you need to get into the flow. If you can work on the same thing for a longer period without being disturbed, you only have this start-up time once.

Our measures for a productive working environment 

This is all the theory for now. But how have we set up our work (processes) and workplace in order to work as undisturbed as possible?

  1. We scrum. We work undisturbed on one project in cycles of three weeks. In addition, we always rotate one designated developer who solves bugs and is on standby for support questions. This means the other developers do not have to worry about this.
  2. Our senior developers work six hours per day on a project. They are on standby for questions for the remaining two hours. This automatically creates natural "disturbance moments".
  3. We plan meetings around natural "disturbance moments". We believe that the best time for meetings are before or after lunch. Obviously, we try to limit meetings as much as possible. We limit ourselves to a sprint planning and retrospective.
  4. We have noise cancelling headphones. No surrounding noise. Just you and your task.
  5. We use traffic lights. Everyone has a small traffic light on their desk. Green means you are available for questions. Red means that you may not be disturbed. Our policy is that the red light will continuously burn for a maximum of 45 minutes.
  6. We use noise cancelling cubicles. These are reserved for our Support Owls. Anna, Brian, Sharda, and Eléonore give demos in these cubicles. This way we prevent other people from getting distracted by their phone calls.
  7. We regularly snooze our internal chat program. We use Slack. Everyone is free to snooze his/her notifications. No hard feelings.

Green light

But of course we are not perfect. There are days that we fail, or that our concentration is just lower, and we chat a bit more than intended. However, we are always looking for possibilities to optimize our working environment. Maybe we will experiment with a silent hour? Or, an email-free Monday? Or, maybe a challenge to get rid of our telephone addiction. In any case, there is a lot to gain in terms of the office layout, but that is a work in progress. 

What will we gain from these measures?

We continuously provide a higher quality.

We are convinced that these measures will take us further. To date, we have already noticed the following effects:

  • We make fewer mistakes, and continuously provide a higher quality. In any case, we strive for higher quality standards. This has the additional advantage that we never have urgent bugs that force us to immediately make a person available to solve the bug.
  • We can do more in the same or less time.
  • All colleagues can develop themselves better, because they spend more time in deep concentration.
  • We don’t have to work overtime. We didn’t do this anyway, but the necessity continues to decrease. This means there is a better balance between work and private life. Plus more time to have a nice drink with colleagues 😊.

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