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Person hitting flow state and working productively.

How to optimize your data workflow to hit flow state

You might be chasing data efficiency through tools and systems, but what if efficiency was a simple snooze of your Slack messages away? Think of deep work and flow state as your new productivity hacks.

Flow state? I’ll take two, please.

Time zooms by, ideas are coming at a rapid clip, and positive feelings are abundant. This, friends, is your brain on flow state. Flow state is described as a way to help boost energy, unlock creativity, and increase employee satisfaction. Before we all merged our work and home lives, flow state was the height of workplace nirvana (and seemingly unachievable in the open office environment!). The idea of eliminating distractions and diving deep into a project that brings you joy was the ultimate sign of productivity. 

Fast forward to daycare closures, needy pets, and a partner who likes to do their fair share of water cooler chit-chat at all hours of the day regardless of a looming deadline. Needless to say, most of us have put the idea of finding our flow state on the back-burner over the last year. But as we emerge from our WFH cocoons and our work lives get a bit more comfortable (and partners go back into the office), we can begin to focus on finding our flow state yet again.

Flow state, deep work, and how it helps us be better humans.

You might have a few different categories of work that you have to get done, depending on your role and the type of company you work for. For example, a data operations manager’s three buckets of work might look like this:

  • Repetitive: Updating weekly KPI reports, meetings to discuss projects and planning, feedback sessions.
  • Ad hoc: Fixing an error in a report, responding to email and chat messages, intercepting the occasional desk drive-by.
  • Deep work: Analyzing large data sets, conducting research, writing reports that highlight findings of data.

The repetitive and ad hoc flurry of activity is necessary to keep some aspects of business moving forward, but it doesn’t lend itself well to making the organization’s data program (or operations professional) stronger. Deep work allows an individual to hone their craft and in return delivers feelings of happiness and satisfaction. 

Popular meditation app, Headspace, suggests that flow state can lead to a greater sense of happiness, clarity, and help you achieve goals through deeper periods of focus. In reality, hitting peak flow state also means that you finish projects with more satisfaction during business hours allowing you to spend more quality time with the people outside of work. Flow state and deep work just might be able to bring more joy to our lives.

Why does flow state matter?

A study done by the University of California Irvine found that just one distraction from a task can cause an individual to lose 23 minutes and 15 seconds. The time lost is how long it takes for our brain to switch context and back again. Imagine if in a single day your colleague did a desk drive-by three times, you had ten Slack messages pinging on your screen, and attended two meetings. That’s 5.75 hours of time spent distracted. Sure, you might have answered a couple of important questions or gained valuable insights from a team meeting — but you don’t have much time left in the day for deep work; and we only get to deep work by reaching flow state.

The startling data that shows how much time we waste by being distracted in the workplace should be enough to prompt leaders to take inventory of how they set their teams up for success. Teams that are enabled to hit flow state on a regular basis produce valuable work that propels an organization forward. By focusing on investment in tools, processes, and guidelines to encourage as much flow state as possible, leaders could see returns in the form of efficiency, productivity, and employee retention.

How can you set yourself up to hit your flow state?

For starters, distractions are the number one blocker to achieving and maintaining flow state. If you can find a quiet corner (or better yet, a dedicated space) to hunker down in, you’ve got the makings of flow state at your fingertips. Temporarily turn off notifications from Slack and email on your computer and phone. Each ping and ding is costing you valuable flow state time, so by removing the temptation to engage altogether, you’re more likely to achieve a distraction-free zone. You’ll be able to weigh in on the cake debate in #yum later in the day.

Automate your manual, repetitive tasks that don't contribute to deep work. If you work in the realm of data operations or data science, a necessary evil is finding, cleaning, and organizing data so that you can do deeper work. By finding tools that automate some of these workflows, you’ll free up your mind to reach flow state and do greater things with the data. Data extraction tools like Impira allow you to automatically pull data from documents like invoices and purchase orders without hours spent finding and typing from one place to another. 

And finally, blocking your calendar to prevent meetings is a sure-fire way to give yourself ample time to get in, and stay in, flow state. Some of our team members at Impira use Clockwise, an automated calendar tool that proactively finds and blocks swaths of open time so people have more opportunities to do deeper work. It automatically moves meetings around to create optimized schedules that give you and your teammates more of that precious focus time.

By investing in a few tools and re-thinking your workplace habits, you’ll be unlocking a world of deeper and more meaningful work so you can take yourself to the next level.

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