Have you ever become so focused on an activity that time seems to stand still and you’re filled with a sense of exhilaration and energy?
This state of mind is often referred to as “being in the flow.” Psychologists have found that the ability to achieve flow is a source of true happiness. It can happen when you’re engaged in your favorite hobby or participating in a sport you enjoy.
Believe it or not, one of the greatest opportunities for experiencing flow is at work. Work is where we are challenged and can find the time to concentrate. Work is also where we’re more likely to be recognized for our accomplishments, which is a motivation for applying our focus. When we’re in the flow, we’re at our most productive.
Flow is a powerful force when applied to work because it supports maximum performance, growth and skill development. Unfortunately, many people are unable to achieve flow at work because they’re limited in their approach to the job or work under less than optimal conditions.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first used the term “flow” with respect to task performance in his book Finding Flow, has stated that the type of job you have shouldn’t limit your ability to achieve flow. Even jobs which seem to be mundane or boring can be approached as a challenge. If you think your job is routine, analyze the tasks involved and think of ways to do them faster or better. Set yourself goals and then focus on achieving them.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is most likely to occur when some or all of these conditions are present:
You have a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. Examples include playing a musical piece, writing a computer program or performing surgery as well as serving customers at a fast-food restaurant or working as a gardener or housekeeper.
You receive positive feedback, whether in the form of increased sales or praise from a work supervisor. Just knowing you’ve done a good job is also a good source of feedback.
You are using your skills to overcome a “just about manageable” challenge. This type of challenge keeps you engaged by allowing you to refine your skills and develop new ones.
Your sense of time is altered and the present moment becomes the most important.
Your concentration deepens and your ego recedes.
You feel in control of your actions and have confidence that your skills will allow you to overcome any obstacles you encounter.
Studies have found that the majority of people admit to sometimes experiencing flow. About 25% of people experience flow several times in the course of a typical day while less than 15% of people don’t think they’ve ever experienced it. Flow is rarely experienced during passive activities such as watching television or just relaxing, so it’s safe to say that people who frequently experience flow spend more time engaged in productive activities.
You can improve your happiness and the quality of your life by making flow part of your everyday life. Just about any activity can produce flow if the correct conditions are present. Even people who have jobs that appear to be monotonous can achieve flow by focusing on each step of their work process and looking for ways to improve their performance and make their job more meaningful.
Here are some practical tips for organizing your work around the goal of achieving flow:
• Match your skills to challenging tasks that you enjoy and set aside time for them when your energy level is at its peak.
• Minimize distractions by ignoring email, instant messaging and other interruptions. If possible, let phone calls go to voice mail.
• Reduce work stress that interferes with flow by establishing priorities, getting help and delegating whenever possible.
• Once you’re in the habit of achieving a sense of flow, keep at a task as long as you’re able to concentrate your attention and stay focused.
If you’re not currently achieving flow at work on a daily basis, you’ll probably find that it requires some practice. The more accustomed you become to finding the right task and focusing, the easier it will become. Once you’re able to achieve flow at work, it’s guaranteed that you’re productivity will increase. You will also have a greater sense of accomplishment since you‘ll be getting more done. No matter what your job, this sense of accomplishment can have a huge impact on your overall happiness.
The sun’s rays do not burn until brought into focus”