Harnessing flow

Have you ever immersed yourself in a task that was both challenging and compelling, then found yourself snapping out of that trance to find that hours had passed? The chances are that what you experienced was called "flow", and learning how to tap into it can be a key productivity solution.

Athletes call it "being in the zone", but it's a mental state that can encompass almost any activity. The key thing about it is that extraneous thoughts disappear and people get out of their own way; their sense of self, in a sense, vanishes and they become wholly absorbed in what they're doing.

A McKinsey study found that business executives who experienced flow-states were as much as five times more productive and took greater satisfaction from their work. In these moments people can find solutions to seemingly intractable problems, see connections that weren't readily apparent, and unlock a level of productivity that might otherwise be impossible. 

Harnessing flow

Role clarity: For employees to immerse themselves in their work, they must understand what they're doing, and what the objectives are. What are the metrics for success?

The right tools: To settle into a pattern of high focus, people need the tools and support to do the job well. Having the will to do something but not the tools is a recipe for exasperation. 

Challenge: A task that is too difficult can be frustrating while a task that is too easy can be boring. But the sweet spot between the two is a place of challenging engagement.

Team spirit: A supportive environment is crucial. If workers don't feel like they're part of a unified team, then productive energy flows into unproductive office politics and watching out for one-self.  

Meaning: When people don't see what they do as important, then it soon becomes "just a job" that they do for a paycheck. To dedicate themselves to a task, people have to believe that it actually matters.

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