How to find Your Zone: No Flow to Flow at Work

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DH Happiness Habit: Flow

What Is Flow?

Flow is feeling fully immersed in what you are doing.1

It’s not so much “going with the flow” as it is finding your own flow! The key to a flow exercise is finding the right balance between challenge and skill – if the balance is just right, you’ll be “flowing” in no time!

Finding flow at work

Football receiver, Lynn Swan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, describing long catches he made on route to winning the Most Valuable Player Award in Super Bowl XXV.


We feel flow when:

  • The task at hand is challenging
  • We have the skill to meet the challenge
  • We get immediate feedback as we work.
  • We are free from distractions.

If the challenge of a task is much more than how much skill you have to do it, you will feel some form of anxiety instead of flow.

For example, imagine having just learned to play the guitar and being able to play a couple of simple songs. Now imagine that your friends sign you up for an open-mic session that night. Despite having some skill with a guitar, the challenge of a live performance is too great and causes anxiety.

In addition, if the skill you have for a task is much more than the challenge the task presents, you are most likely to feel boredom.

Now imagine that you are an excellent guitar player but are asked to play very simple songs. Of course, you are much more likely to feel boredom than flow because your skill is much greater than the challenge of playing easy songs.

However, flow can happen if challenge and skill have an equal balance. This means that a given task gives just the right amount of challenge to make you draw upon all the skill you have.


DH Factoid  Employees who regularly experience flow while working (compared to those who do not) are seven times more likely to report that their culture had kind, supportive relationships between employees and is open to new ideas and projects.2


Turning a “No” Activity Into a “Flow” Activity

Do on your own, with a coworker, or as a team.

Start by brainstorming a list of work activities that you find hard to concentrate on.

Maybe they are too boring, or too taxing, or you just plain dislike them.

From your brainstormed list, select one activity that you would most like to find more flow in.  Based on what you’ve learned about flow, approach the activity with new eyes,  gamify it, reframe it, create a reward or point system, make it more challenging...have fun and think creatively to bring in more flow.

Examples:

  1. Gamify getting ready for work by setting time limits (5 minutes for a quick shower, 5 minutes to get dressed, 10 minutes to make/eat breakfast). Getting ready for work this quickly might be stressful if you are running late, but if you choose to get ready quickly to make a game out of it, you might find yourself having more fun with this activity than you ever have before!
  2. Create a point system for your to-do list, assign each task a point value, make a goal of 100 points and choose a reward for reaching and exceeding that goal.
  3. Transform your inbox into a jukebox. Crank up the music, time yourself, and add a bit of friendly competition with a coworker to knock out as many quality emails as possible.

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1 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.2 Salanova, M., Bakker, A. B., & Llorens, S. (2006). Flow at work: Evidence for an upward spiral of personal and organizational resources. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 1-22.

 

About the Author

Kelsey Lotus Wong

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