We all do our best work when focused and “in the zone”, but it can be challenging to reach that Zen state when working as a digital nomad. If you are working from your accommodation, a noisy café, or a busy coworking space, there are so many distractions that can rob you of your concentration.

Plus, if you are also excited about all the new things to do, see, and eat at your latest destination, it can be hard to keep your mind on task.

Developing strategies to concentrate and finding ways to focus wherever you are in the world are life skills that you need as a digital nomad on the road, a remote worker at home, or even an office worker surrounded by busy colleagues.


Aiming for Flow

According to researchers, “flow” is a unique state of concentration in which action seems to be effortless. You feel alert unselfconscious, and fully absorbed in the present moment. This state has proven to be the most productive for artists, athletes, authors, and academics. Not only are you more productive when you are in a state of flow, but you also feel happier and more fulfilled.

While flow or the zone is sometimes presented as a magical state that we fall into accidentally by luck, entering flow is a skill that can be learned. Let’s look at some of the skills and habits that you can develop to find a state of flow.


Skills and Habits to Enhance Flow

While each of the skills and habits below seems simple enough, collectively they can create a state in which is it much easier to dip into the zone.


Stop Multitasking

Many people claim that they are great at multitasking, but that just isn’t true. Research tells us that when we are watching TV, checking social media, and chatting with a friend, we aren’t actually multitasking, we are rather quickly switching our attention between different tasks, breaking and reestablishing focus every few seconds.

Trying to multitask while working is a killer of flow. Instead, the research shows that we should chunk up our time into 30-minute blocks and focus on just one thing for that time.

This should include turning off all notifications. Even if you don’t open and respond to an email, seeing a notification pop up with a message from your boss or an important client will immediately pull your attention away from what you are doing.

Choose the times of day when you are most productive for creative tasks. Some people like the morning, others are night owls. Ideally, make this a phone silence time as well so a call doesn’t eat into your dedicated time.


Take Breaks

When chunking your work, you should also take short breaks between each work trunk to let your mind reset. Focus is a muscle, and just like muscle groups at the gym, you need to take a break between sets.

If you are doing short 20-minute chunks, you might want to keep your breaks short as well. Do some quick stretches, listen to a song that you love, or do a quick doodle to let your mind relax for just a minute or two.

After a few hours of work when you have done a series of chunks, you will want to take a longer break. This could be a short walk, a power nap, a healthy snack, or anything else.

The science is in about the importance of rest and recovery for athletes for optimum performance, but we still aren’t universally applying this same information to the mind.


Use a Planner

There is a reason why many people love having a to-do list. It helps us make clear what exactly it is we need to do, and we get a little rewarding endorphin rush when we tick something off. But most people do to-do lists wrong.

People tend to put too much on the list, leading to unrealistic expectations and a sense of unnecessary urgency. Tasks aren’t divided or prioritized, so you might tick off the easy things for a quick win while diminishing the time you have for more important pieces of work. It can also be a problem if you just list major tasks, and don’t break them down into the steps that need to be done.

Remember that if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Choose the most important thing that you need to get done in a day and make it your principal priority for the day. There may be a couple of steps that you can list within that priority, but it should be a coherent and manageable task. If it is the only thing you get done today, you should feel satisfied.

You can then add two or three secondary tasks that it would be great to get done today but aren’t vital. You can then add additional tasks that you’d like to get to, but are there to be done once your primary and secondary tasks are done.

We are big fans of the Intelligent Change Productivity Planner for this type of to-do list management.


Learn Breathing Exercises

An increasing amount of research is showing that the way we breathe has a huge impact on our health and well-being. And, unfortunately, most of us don’t breathe in a way that is conducive to our health most of the time. Fortunately, you don’t have to “breathe properly” all the time to get the associated benefits for the mind and body.

Doing just a few minutes of breath work at the start of your day, before diving into big tasks, and at the end of the day to destress and decompress can make your mind more focused and decrease stress.

The most basic breathing technique is box breathing. Choose timing that works for you. For some people, it will be six seconds, for others, ten seconds. You then simply breathe in for a count of six, hold your breath for a count of six, breathe out for a count of six, and hold for a count of six. Close your eyes and try to clear your thoughts of anything but your breath while doing it as a mini meditation.

If, after a few weeks, you find that this technique works for you, there are many other breathing techniques that you can research and experiment with.


Make a Playlist

While it is a good idea to create a workspace that minimizes distractions when you want to find the zone, music is the exception. Music can block out other distracting noises, and the rhythm helps stimulate the brain and keep us alert. Studies have shown that listening to music can activate both the left and right sides of the brain at the same time, which maximizes learning and improves memory.

While any music is good, it can help to create the perfect playlist. You are probably better off with familiar songs rather than new discoveries, so you aren’t distracted by something new and interesting. Others say that repetitive beats and music without lyrics are also best. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen to electronica all day. The studies suggest that any music is good.


Focus on Your Physical Health

It is an old adage, but that is because it is true: healthy mind, healthy body. But the reverse is also true, healthy body, healthy mind. The mind and the body cannot be separated. If you aren’t in a good mental state, your body will often let you down. And when you aren’t in good physical shape, your mind is not as sharp and focused as it could be.

This doesn’t mean that you need to train to become an athlete to have a healthy mind capable of maintaining flow, but you do need to cover the essentials.

  1. Get enough sleep. This is one of those areas where the research has been done and we know the detrimental impact of not getting enough sleep, yet many people still insist on burning the candle at both ends. How much you need depends on your individual system, but it is almost certainly at least seven hours a night. And it can take up to four days to recover from just one hour of lost sleep. Read our sleep guide here.


  1. Eat well. Most of us are familiar with afternoon slumps, usually caused by a sugar crash, or unproductive mornings powered by coffee rather than a healthy breakfast (and a good night’s sleep). Food is the energy input for the mind and body, so you are what you eat. This is another area where everyone is different and what you need and when depends on you. But we can all agree on less sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and more protein and low glycemic foods that release glucose into the bloodstream slowly. Read our guide to the best brain foods here.


  1. Move your body. Bodies were made to move, and if you spend too much time each day sitting in front of a computer you are likely to put on weight, develop bad circulation, increase lumbar and other back issues, and just not feel great. When it comes to improving blood flow to the brain and promoting brain cell growth, it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do something. It is always best to choose something that you enjoy and schedule it at times and places that are easy so you have no excuses to duck out. Read our guide to staying fit on the road here.


  1. Spend time outdoors. We evolved on planet Earth, and that is where we are designed to live, but many of us spend the majority of our time in buildings and in paved areas, with barely a tree or blade of grass in sight. This has been proven to be detrimental to our physical and mental health, including our ability to concentrate. Making sure to spend a little bit of time in nature every day is vital.


Is Flow Worth It?

The above might seem like a lot of things to focus on just to get a little more flow at work. Is it really worth it? Yes. While prioritizing these habits will improve your flow while turning out important work tasks, they will also improve so many other elements of your life. Focusing on flow at work can lead to major transformation in other areas of your life.