Go With the Flow: Help Your Engineers Get into Flow for Higher Productivity

February 2nd, 2016


By Michael Solomon, 10x Management Founder

[Also on Medium]

I get to work with some of the smartest people in the world on a daily basis. The coders, designers and, data scientists who have signed up to allow 10x Management to represent them are the same people who built the codebase for Linux and BitCoin or are core contributors for languages being used to build everything from Pinterest to Ebay. They are amazing.

And when I ask them what the secret is to their success (aside from abnormally high IQs and stellar work ethics), they all say one thing: Flow. And how do they get into flow? There are a number of suggestions below, but one thing they all said is zero interruptions which often comes from working remotely.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has written extensively about the state of flow and its relationship to a happy and fulfilling life. According to Wikipedia, “in positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

One of the startling realizations that emerged from my conversations with our talented engineers is that for this group switching between speaking with humans (email, IM, texts, meetings, phone calls, etc.) and speaking with machines (writing code, algorithms, etc) comes at a hefty price. Studies have shown that returning to the flow state or zone after an interruption can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

But why is flow so important?

  1. Productivity – Engineers who are “in the flow” are many times more productive and engrossed in their work than those who are dealing with interruptions. Conversely, as indicated above, interruptions can lead to hours of lost productivity.
  2. Creativity – Flow state has been associated with the “creative high” many composers and writers feel when they are at their peak of creativity.
  3. Satisfaction – Many people report being in the flow as being an ecstatic experience. We actually feel happier and more satisfied with our lives and our work when we spend more time in the flow.

So, how can companies and managers help developers achieve this mythical state of flow? Lucky for you, here are a few tips directly from our 10xers for getting and keeping your coders “in the flow.”

  1. Enable Remote Working – “I work remotely. I have rented a professional workspace separate from my house. Nothing beats a closed door. It helps me create a productive environment, free from external distractions.” – Akshay Agarwal
  2. Respect the Headphones – “If you see a developer wearing headphones, it’s best to assume that they’re in the flow; respect that and refrain from tapping them on the shoulder, waving your hand in front of their face, or performing other common ways to get someone’s attention.” – Jason Rubenstein
  3. More Private Spaces – “If I have to be in an office, private or semi-private offices that allow you to focus (as well as have a modicum of privacy commensurate with being a high-performing adult) combined with the serendipitous meetings that happen in hallways and such are my preferred environment.”  – David Strip
  4. Create Quiet Time – “Companies need to institute a quiet time period where there are no meetings, phone calls, or messages allowed. I suggest from 11 am to 4 pm, and minimize meetings to once or twice weekly.” – Ahmad Alokush


None of this is surprising, the office is usually full of distractions. This Ted talk by Jason Fried of 37Signals addresses that point head on and emphatically points out that when people really want to get things done, they usually leave their workplace to go somewhere free of distraction. It is time we acknowledge this for our tech teams and give them what they need so they can give us what we need.