If you’re in this position, taking steps to rediscover your ‘Flow’ can help you get back on track.
Tapping into your Flow is a great way to find your intrinsic motivation and bring focus, verve and momentum back into your work. Sportspeople are very aware of Flow, they often describe it as being “in the Zone”. For the rest of us, it’s those moments (or hours) where you get so lost in whatever you’re doing that time seems to alter and before you know it, it’s time for dinner.
Chances are you’ve experienced Flow at some time in your life. Think of an activity you really enjoy doing, something you get completely immersed in (for example, cooking, rockclimbing, boatbuilding). Flow activities engage you in deep concentration, you act in the moment, aren’t concerned about controlling all the little details, you experience an altered sense of time and there’s no ego involved. Imagine your working day filled with those feelings of flow – and how effortless, enjoyable and productive it would be.
The concept of Flow has been researched, and subsequently popularised by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (It’s pronounced Me-High Chick-Sent-Me-High, but to prevent headaches let’s call him Csik for short). According to Csik, achieving Flow is simply getting the balance right between your skills and challenge.
I recently took on a project that involved doing something that I love (design) and after a month or so, it had become a “have to do” project. My previously-loved work was now a drudge and it certainly wasn’t winning brownie points for getting me out of bed of a morning. I had to find out: Where did all my passion and energy go? Where was my Flow?
I discovered that it can be hard to recreate the conditions of flow all the time when you’re flying solo. Sometimes it feels like you’re getting tossed by turbulence, other times you’re stuck on such a long ennui-producing flight you want to fall asleep at the controls. Luckily, Csik has come to the rescue with three ways you can get flow into your everyday life.
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1. Have clear goals
Know what you’re trying to achieve or where you’re heading with the task or project. You may not know exactly how to get there but your decision making along the way is clear because you have an end-point. At first, these things may need to be written down. Do you have clear goals – for your business, for your clients, for your day?
2. Seek immediate feedback
It’s a beautiful thing to know immediately if something works or not. Have you ever had the situation of waiting a week to hear back about a proposal and how enthusiasm waxes and wanes depending on the outcome you expect? If you compare this to meeting with a company’s decision maker who gives you immediate feedback that helps you amend or enhance your proposal as the new information comes to hand. How do you get feedback?
3. Find that balance between the opportunity and your capacity to meet it
This addresses the gap between your skill level and the challenge of the task. Here you may be overskilled (which may lead to boredom) or underskilled (and filled with anxiety). Ideally the challenge needs to be just slightly above your skill level so that you know you can achieve it with a little stretching. And then as your skill level increases you keep the work/task engaging by increasing the challenge or complexity. If you’re learning something new in your business everyday, you will find it much more enjoyable than if you’re doing the same thing day after day. What do you need to learn? What challenges do you need to set yourself?
So with the master of Flow’s formula for success, I went back to my dreaded project and discovered that all three components had been lacking. I wasn’t clear about what the end-product was going to look like, I wasn’t getting any feedback and most of the time I was either feeling way out of my depth or bored senseless with the thing.
When I actually addressed these factors then it became so much easier. I had to learn a new trick or two, but the sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile. And it sure was a lot easier getting out of bed when I knew my day was going to be filled with work I now enjoyed.