Have you ever experienced that magical state when your work seems to become almost effortless? In such situations what you are doing counts even more than the prospective results, though the effects are usually as satisfying as the pleasure you take from it. If your answer is yes, you can make it your daily bread – you just have to know what simple principles to follow.
It’s not a kind of magic
I want to focus on creative tasks, those that don’t necessarily fall into your typical work schedule. When you’re intensely focused on your job, it becomes not only highly rewarding but also fascinating, it may influence all your work-related decision profoundly. Everything else is put aside, till the moment you get to the point when you are pleased with the effect of your work. This is an art, which is why nothing else counts but the actual act of “creation.” When you’re engrossed in these tasks that require innovative thinking such as coding, writing, or designing – you need to pump up your productivity.
If you seek that kind of positive creative experience, good news! Psychologists have discovered that you can somewhat control the productivity process by creating specific work conditions. One of the most important writings by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, dealt with the state I have mentioned above, “a state of flow”, using his own term. By observing highly creative people, such as writers and composers, he came up with the basic outlines for how to boost and sustain complete immersion in the job being done, accompanied by high productivity and energy level.
How to go with the flow
First assumptions may be that a flow state is more probable to occur during our leisure time, when we get absorbed by our hobbies, things we enjoy doing. This can be true, taking into account one rule – the engagement.
Csikszentmihalyi underlines, however, that work environment can also provide great opportunities to get into the state of flow, especially when your work is based on clear cut principles and goals. What’s more, even a mundane toil can change into something genuinely enjoyable, a game, comparable to playing chess. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
The rules of ‘the game’ are quite easy to follow. You must know what you doing and why, and what is the result you aim at. Without that you cannot reevaluate your work, which is crucial as constant feedback and checking on the progress are also principles mentioned by Csikszentmihalyi. So do not be afraid of remodeling your plans and stay flexible. Don’t cut any corners, instead look for better solutions.
Keep in mind that you may be given a goal, but the way you achieve it depends exclusively on you. Flow will not occur if you are not in control of what you are doing. It may be pretty hard to stay focused if you do your things in a way that is forced upon you by others. You may receive external feedback that can serve you well, but the way you put it to life should be on your own terms.
Even more so, create your own space. It is not easy to control your work and creative progress while being disturbed. That is why you should prepare your work place in such way that it enables you to minimize possible distractions that will disrupt your focus. This part of the principles is easy to spot even in my colleagues, coders, or designers, that are working. Headphones, dimmed light, and them immersed in their work.
What about the very work you are doing? I have already mentioned that the flow fosters a sense of reward and pleasure, which can be achieved only when your skills are compatible with your tasks. Your job must pose a challenge, so as not to cause boredom. On the other hand, when you do not feel competent enough, it may result in frustration or anxiety. What else counts are the personal profits, such as learning new things and increasing your capacity for dealing with even more challenging work.
To understand how the model works, check out this chart:
To sum up, a simplified recipe for flow:
- Have a clear goal.
- Seek feedback (whether it comes from you or others).
- Avoid distractors.
- Adjust you work to your skills (or the other way round).
- Get involved in what you do.
Stay focused, enjoy, repeat
Although Csikszentmihalyi was not interested in commercializing his findings, being more into topics such as personal development and well-being, the flow model has its followers in the business world. Toyota, Ericsson, and Microsoft are amongst organizations that have tried to utilize his theory. In my opinion, it might be quite a challenge for managers, but definitely something that can be done. My professional experience suggests that the key to success is to create a work environment that suits not only your individual preferences but also gets the job done.
All of the amounts to the physical and mental space that should be provided to enhance your effectives. Open space or multitasking are not always the best solutions – not for everybody and not in every situation. Therefore, freedom to choose or change the surroundings and the amount of stimulation itself can play a crucial role. Moreover, we should remember that tons of brain work happens unconsciously, so letting off steam between assignments can help us in refreshing and sharpening our concentration. Individual feedback sessions should also be carefully tailored to the needs and self-reliance of a team member, make them count.
Remember that ‘flow friendly’ environments are not just a matter of mindful team management. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that you can (and you should) exercise the state of being immersed in a given activity to improve your productivity and general well-being.
Want to get more inventive and satisfied with your work? Get engaged in things you like, meditate and train your ability to focus. Stay mentally active – sitting in front of the TV may not be a good start. Last and foremost, learn how to organize and prioritize, even if you plan your activities outside the working hours. And ease up on multitasking. At least from time to time!
How do you make your work more creative and productive? Share in the comments below!