How deep work transformed my life

    "Here was a set of mental and physical ingredients that could optimise our ability to be focused, prolific, creative, and – most excitingly – happy."

    ~ Alicia Navarro, FLOWN CEO & founder

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur. Working in various (well-paid but ultimately unfulfilling) product management jobs throughout my 20s, I’d constantly be dreaming up business ideas.

    I gave a few of those ideas a shot. I failed a lot, but I always went back to the drawing board, tried to learn the skills I needed to not fail next time, and give it another shot. Eventually, that strategy worked. I founded a startup called Skimlinks, an unsexy but very useful product a lot of blogs and websites used to make money from writing about products.

    Over my 11 years as CEO, I grew Skimlinks to 80 people, expanded from London to San Francisco and New York, and served high-profile clients all over the world. I gave TV interviews and spoke at conferences. I won all sorts of awards for entrepreneurship.

    We generated millions in revenues. On the outside, I looked wildly successful… but the reality – as with anyone chasing a big dream – was more complex.

    I struggled with my workload: I was frequently overwhelmed, and prioritising big and proactive tasks was difficult when so many shallow and reactive tasks were clamouring for my attention. I’d often finish each day feeling that I’d accomplished very little, and that wore me down.

    Also, the truth is, I’d always been an ideas person. But as you get more successful with an idea, your job stops being about idea generation, and becomes about execution. It becomes about profit maximisation and managing investors, rather than about building products and talking to customers.

    I knew I could be this type of late-stage startup CEO. But I also knew I was never going to be the best in the world at this job, at this stage of the company’s growth. I yearned to return to the early stages of building a company, where I could exercise my creative powers, and really connect with the people whose problems I was trying to solve.

    So I made the difficult and humbling decision to step down from my own company.

    I told my Board, and I hired in another CEO. After 11 years of soul-wrenching hard work, I was no longer involved in the day-to-day of my business. It was crazy, as much of my identity came from leading this company. I had to start again, and to do so, I took a two year sabbatical to work things out.

    As luck would have it, my company was acquired during that sabbatical, so I had the time and space to really work out what I wanted to do next.

    The moment I secured the deal for Skimlinks.

    For many founders (me included), leaving or selling a business can feel like a career destination in itself. Maybe a lot of professions have that illusory target. You think: “When I get there, I’ll have made it.” But once the post-sale euphoria wore off, I realised I was actually at another beginning.

    What to do next?

    I still wanted to create – and to create something worthwhile, that I could put my whole heart into. But I was also afraid of jumping back into the startup driving seat. How would I avoid getting burnt out again?

    Over the next year or so, I experimented: I took a ton of courses, tried different industries, and played around with various startup concepts. All while attacking my travel bucket list with gusto (I’d spent a long time working 14-hour days). I even tried writing a book.

    My many Trello boards, obviously blurred for my privacy.

    The first thing I noticed, was that it was hard to find the space to do the type of creative deep thinking I wanted to do. Everywhere was full of distractions. Online notifications kept pulling me out of my flow state. The offline world was noisy and full of interruptions too.

    And I started to notice something else.

    When I did manage to get away from online and offline distractions, when I immersed myself in nature, or when I did something novel and exploratory, something weird and wonderful would happen. I would get particularly inspired, creative and focused on the intention I’d set myself. 

    These moments of experiencing awe – of getting outside my busy mind – would help me join dots and discover insights that deliberate thinking would never have achieved.

    It was a revelation. I told whoever would listen. And one of them (the guy who invented Amazon’s Alexa, so a bit of a revelations expert), said: “I know a book you should read.”

    I'm always up for a book recommendation. The book was Cal Newport’s Deep Work, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life.

    The first thing I noticed, was that it was hard to find the space to do the type of creative deep thinking I wanted to do. Everywhere was full of distractions. Online notifications kept pulling me out of my flow state. The offline world was noisy and full of interruptions too.

    And I started to notice something else.

    Newport described Deep Work as what we do in a state of focused concentration – flow – where we do our most valuable work, learn new skills, and achieve pride and contentment. Multitasking and distraction are the enemies of deep work, keeping us busy and overwhelmed without achieving anything meaningful.

    The clincher for me was Newport’s idea that deep work isn’t just about work. To do our best work with focus and creativity, we need to weave in time spent exploring, playing, and being immersed in nature. We need rituals of accountability. We need to be exposed to diverse people and ideas.

    And it wasn’t just me whose best work was inspired by beauty and achieved in flow: for centuries, writers, philosophers, scientists and entrepreneurs had used this approach to help them achieve their best. And now there was actual science to back it up.

    Here was a set of mental and physical ingredients that could optimise our ability to be focused, prolific, creative, and – most excitingly – happy.

    Now I knew what I needed to do next. I wanted to help humanity flourish by providing the optimal conditions for deep work and flow states, every day.

    What can I say, I like to aim high.

    I came to believe that deep work and flow states can help address many of society’s challenges and opportunities, and help each of us to achieve our best. But I also believed that flow is something that should be accessible to everyone. 

    Not just to rich folk who can travel to beautiful places and find novelty regularly, but to all of us who think and work for a living.

    And that’s how FLOWN was born.

    Discovering the ingredients for deep work on my sabbatical: access to nature, and time and space to focus. Sunshine helps too!

    I wanted to build a platform that delivered the ingredients we need to achieve and entwine deep work and flow states into the way we worked, every day.

    A platform that helped people realise that sometimes extraordinary insights come from non-cerebral spaces; that sometimes not doing results in more progress than doing; that sometimes waiting to receive can be more bountiful than aggressively seeking.

    I realised after my time at Skimlinks, and all my other startup experiences, that the best way to survive the ups and down that come with chasing a dream is to see it as a game.

    You want to win games you play, obviously, but as long as you enjoy the game, it doesn’t matter so much if you win or lose. How do you reframe work so you see it as a game, one that you can get better at playing, even as you play?

    So I developed FLOWN to be not just about focus and productivity (there are plenty of self-help books for that), but about creating the wider set of conditions that enable great work to happen: play, exploration, and learning. Thus FLOWN’s deep work platform offers two complementary types of experience, Focus and Recharge.

    • Our Focus-oriented experiences help you work. Flocks and Portholes deliver both the best of being in an office (accountability, community, access to diverse people and ideas) and the best of being out of the office (focused bouts of distraction-free work). They trigger focus by using research-based psychological tools like rituals of accountability, body doubling, and the Hawthorne Effect.

    • Our Recharge-oriented experiences help get you back to work. Quests, Airflow and Almanac are different types of content that provide explorative, restorative and movement experiences to spark curiosity, creativity, and mental resilience.

    My vision is that FLOWN becomes a complete platform for people to be their best selves, every day. And that it will do that by allowing people to weave their periods of deep work in with moments of creativity, playfulness and rest – so that each and every day will be a ‘complete mental meal’ of productivity, joy, and restoration.

    The concept of deep work is what taught me how to make work an expression of my talents and passion, rather than a duty. It also inspired me to help others change the way they work so they too can transform their lives. Come join me, and see what deep work can do for you.

    By tapping into neural triggers that have been part of human wiring for millennia, FLOWN's tools enable you to consistently do deep work, helping you unlock a more focused, productive and satisfying work life.

    Portholes - artist

    A motivating backdrop 

    Take inspiration from the craft of others by working alongside other deep workers in our Porthole videos.

    Deep working sessions

    Attend any of our many daily Flocks sessions. Work in the silent presence of others, and feel connected while working alone.

    Breathing and posture

    Keep your mind and body supple during deep work breaks with our Airflow videos.

    Become more creative

    Listen to Quests: walking challenges that help you detach from your mind and fuel your creativity and imagination.

    Flocks are our online deep work sessions, designed to free you from distraction, fill you with motiavtion and help you get more done than you ever thought possible, even when working remotely or alone!

    These expertly facilitated online sessions leverage several practices that are proven to promote focus and productivity. Here's how...

    Set intentions with FLOWN Flocks

    Expertly led by a facilitator, each Flock session connects you with other like-minded professionals in virtual breakout rooms to state your intentions for what you'll work on. You then work in companionable silence toward your goal before rejoining your breakout room at the end to feed back on how you got on.


    The Hawthorne Effect

    Although virtual co-working in this way may feel strange initially, working alongside others leverages another powerful psychological mechanism, known as the Hawthorne Effect (so named after studies at the Hawthorne Works, Illinois in the 1920s and 30s).

    Studies show that the feeling of being watched is a powerful motivator. Not only do we work harder, we also think more deeply, are more creative, and even feel what we are doing is more meaningful when we have an audience. It's a cognitive cocktail that causes our productivity to skyrocket.


    How Flocks boost focus

    By combining these hardwired human tendencies of intention and accountability, Flocks provide the ideal environment to help you focus and get more done, more easily. Which is why 88% of all members who try them come back for more.

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    "The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration."

    Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

    When you concentrate, you engage in what's known as 'directed attention'. It's a form of attention that can only be sustained for limited intervals. When you fail to recharge your brain, you compromise your judgement and your ability to focus.

    This means that for your brain to perform at its best, it needs to be replenished in the right way. At FLOWN, we've an assortment of tools designed to do just that...

    Breathing and posture

    Airflow is a dynamic guide to using breathwork and other exercises to keep your mind charged and ready for focus. 

    Each video provides a brief step-by-step guide on how to consciously control your breath and move your body to reduce stress, aid circulation and elevate those alpha brainwaves that can lead to fresh thinking. 

    Airflow is the perfect tool for recharging between bouts of deep work so you can stay mentally fresh throughout the day. 


    Recharge with Quests

    Quests combine elements of positive constructive daydreaming and mindfulness to get you away from your desk and fire up those handy alpha waves.

    Designed to engage the brain's reward circuitry, these 10-minute audio experiences get you out of your mind and into your senses – the ideal way to recharge and get primed for focused work.


    Diverse thinking matters

    Being exposed to divergent ideas has been shown to improve creative output and problem-solving.

    Novel learnings act as a counterpoint to your area of expertise by disrupting patterns of thought and keeping you from what researchers term 'cognitive rigidity' – so that you can deploy your skills and experience in more innovative and impactful ways.

    The Almanac offers delightfully random but fascinating five-minute reads designed to help widen your thinking.

    "Moments of connection"

    What I get from Flocks: concentration, productivity and… connection! FLOWN has a magic formula that helps me focus, while weaving in moments of connection – wonderful for remote workers.

    Rachel Carrel 
    Founder, Koru Kids

    "Sprint towards progress"

    love FLOWN and encourage my team to get stuck into the platform. As a team, we use Flocks to focus together and sprint towards progress. It's a no-brainer for me as a business leader because it boosts their achievement and also improves their sense of wellbeing at work.

    Dan Murray 
    Co-founder, Heights

    "Achieve more than I'd do on my own"

    I've got severe ADHD so my work is often interrupted and I frequently feel overwhelmed. FLOWN helps me work calmly, get through my admin, and achieve more than I'd do on my own.

    Patricia Bidi

    "A new level of focus"

    I ABSOLUTELY love Flown! The deep work sessions and beautifully held Take-Off spaces have been such a wonderful, transformative experience and addition to my day. I have met lovely people, found a new level of focus, and wonder how I ever managed without FLOWN.

    Jo Gifford
    Writer & Consultant