Alicia Navarro: Work Means Expressing Our Talents & Exercising Our Creativity
A serial entrepreneur on a mission to change the way we work!
At Freedom, our goal is to educate, inspire, and provide everything you need to do your best work. Because of that, we’re constantly thinking about the past, present –and most of all the future– of work and how we can help shape the world of work around our happiness and wellbeing.
We believe the future of work is having time for all the things that inspire you – and we love to learn from our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re successful, fascinating, and inspiring people! From Academy Award-nominated screenwriters and bestselling authors, editors, and journalists to developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, comic book writers, students, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters! We love to share their stories, advice, and processes because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?
Meet Alicia Navarro
When serial entrepreneur Alicia got in touch with us about providing Freedom for the team at her new deep work-inspired venture, FLOWN, we just had to know more. After 11 years leading her previous company, Skimlinks, Alicia became fascinated by the physical and mental conditions necessary to achieve our human potential, which is how the idea for FLOWN came about. FLOWN provides access to the ideal mental and physical spaces to think and work more productively and creatively, and is on a mission to weave deep work principles into the lives of 100,000 people by 2023! Regular readers will know we’re huge fans of Cal Newport –the computer science professor who originally defined the concept of deep work – so we couldn’t wait to sit down with Alicia (who, like Cal, also has a background in computer science!) to find out what the future of work looks like for her.
What inspired you to start FLOWN?
I believe in work as a rewarding journey, but for many knowledge workers, it’s a drag. Too many distractions, meetings all day. How can people be expected to really exercise their talents and be creative if their days are consumed with micro-tasks? I wanted to create a product that gave people the space to love their work and be amazing at it.
As someone who wears multiple hats, how do you prioritize what tasks, activities, or people get your time each day?
Every day, I ask myself: what are the 3 things I will not leave my desk until I finish today. As I passionately believe in living a balanced life, I have no intention of working into the evening, so it gives me the incentive to work first on big projects. This approach means I also finish each day with a sense of pride: I got shit done, so to speak. It feels good.
How do you optimize your environment for focus and productivity?
As the founder of a company that offers focus, productivity, and creativity, I just use our own products! One of our key products is Flocks. These guided deep work sessions put me in a virtual room with other workers, and give me the incentive, space, and community accountability to get key chunks of work done. I do about 4-5 of these sessions a week and encourage my team to do the same, so we have a deep work culture. Once there is a team culture that prioritizes deep work, everyone optimizes their behaviors for focus and productivity.
What do you consider the essential components of a good home workspace?
At FLOWN, we are proponents of a holistic approach to achieving deep work, it is what our platform offers. It isn’t just about the focused bouts of deep work, it’s about also interspersing that work with play and exploration, getting outside and close to nature, rituals of accountability, and an ergonomic setup. No point doing just one of those, an ideal setup weaves all these components together!
As a founder, the biggest distraction is my team: my job is not only to innovate and dream up new concepts, but to guide my team. To ensure they are as productive as possible, I need to be available, and that makes doing my own creative and complex work difficult.
What are your biggest distractors while working and how do you conquer them?
As a founder, the biggest distraction is my team: my job is not only to innovate and dream up new concepts (although it is a lot of that too), it is to guide my team, review their work, answer their questions, solve their roadblocks. To ensure *they* are as productive as possible, I need to be available, and that makes doing my own creative and complex work difficult.
We conquer this by bringing in “Deep Work Friday” where we don’t book any meetings, and the team assembles their week so all meetings and discussions happen Monday to Thursday, and Friday we are all working hard on our own material outputs.
We also tackle distractions by encouraging the team to attend our own Flocks deep work sessions. The team knows during these sessions, I can’t be contacted, and it gives me opportunities to dive deeply into meaningful work. Super effective!
When and where are you most and least productive, and how does this shape your daily working routine?
Daytimes are challenging, as I need to be contactable by the team and by external stakeholders. Often my most productive time slot is 5-7 pm, as usually there are no meetings, and I can just focus on the tasks I have not yet had a chance to complete. Those two hours are my most productive, especially because I usually want to finish up and enjoy my family and friends: replenish my creative juices for the day ahead.
What are some of the rules and boundaries specifically regarding technology that you set for yourself?
I think it is important to rest and engage in activities that don’t require cerebral focus. So I try to not work in the evenings or weekends and use that time to exercise, play, and connect emotionally with people I care about.
We believe this so much at FLOWN that one of our products – Quests – is all about guiding people through having effective non-cerebral breaks from work. The idea is to step away for 10 minutes and connect with your non-cerebral side, and with the world around you, in a new way. When you do this, new neural pathways are created in your brain, and that is the source of enhanced creativity and problem-solving capabilities. I use these regularly to ensure I’m not just trapped in my busy brain all the time!
What would you recommend as a first step for someone who wants to be creative and productive?
Obviously, sign up for FLOWN! Hahaha! In all honesty, FLOWN’s mission is to help people become more creative and productive, and we take people on that journey. The first steps involve regularly attending our Flocks sessions, so you bake time into your calendar for focused bouts of meaningful work; and then that you regularly do our Quests, that get you outside and connect with the space around you so creativity and new perspectives can appear. They are the first steps we take all our members through, and there is more beyond that for a richer practice.
Companies have realized their teams don’t need to be in the office all the time to be productive, which means more people have the ability to be closer to nature or work from inspiring locations. The impact that is going to have on the creativity and output of knowledge workers is really astoundingly exciting!
The pandemic has massively impacted the way we work – what are some of the most exciting changes in the world of remote work that you have witnessed this year?
By far the most exciting change has been the detachment from needing to work in a city to have great work opportunities. Companies have now realized their teams do not need to be in the office all the time to be productive. That means more people have the ability to be close to nature in inspiring locations – at least some of the time – and the impact that is going to have on the creativity and output of knowledge workers is really astoundingly exciting!
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay productive?
I’m a huge believer in being exposed to new ideas, people and experiences, as this enables my brain to have those ‘Aha!’ moments that come from connecting two previously unconnected dots. You can’t really plan for these moments, you can’t control them, but the more you consciously step away from your day-to-day – which is also what we offer via the FLOWN platform – the more likely you are to have those eureka! moments.
I believe work should be an opportunity for us to express our talents and exercise our creativity, and my mission is to help individuals achieve this, and help companies create cultures that offer this.
Spending time in nature is something that you consider important to leading a creative and fulfilling life – what are some easy ways for urban workers to connect with the natural world?
Hopefully, most people live somewhat close to at least a park or garden, that they can take time to wander through. The key to engaging with nature is not just to use it as an ambient background, but to consciously focus on it, notice the small details, and engage all your senses in experiencing what it has to offer. This is what our Quests product helps people achieve, as sometimes it can be hard to focus on doing something so unusual, but goodness can it be transformative not only to your mood but to your ability to gain new work-related insights!
What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
We have actually refined our focus a lot at FLOWN. We began as a booking platform for remote work-enabled properties, and while we will continue to showcase inspiring properties equipped for ergonomic deep work, our main focus, for now, is going to be the software products and tools we are building around productivity, creativity, and contentment.
What does the future of work look like for you?
I believe work should be an opportunity for us to express our talents and exercise our creativity. My life mission now through FLOWN is to build a platform that helps individuals achieve this, and helps companies create cultures that offer this. Not a bad life goal, right? 🙂
Alicia Navarro is the founder and leader at FLOWN. She led her previous company Skimlinks for 11 years – it was pretty successful and was acquired during the Covid lockdown. Her background is in computer science, and she’s now a serial entrepreneur. During and after her time at Skimlinks, Alicia became fascinated by the physical and mental conditions necessary to achieve our human potential, which is how the idea for FLOWN came about.