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How Being “IN THE FLOW’ Maximizes Productivity

Last Updated: Jun 8, 2022 | Leadership

By Katherine Poehnert, M.Ed.Psych. PCC

CaptureWe have all had those times when we are so immersed in what we are doing that time seems to just fly by….we look at the clock and are shocked that 3 hours have passed because it felt like only 30 minutes!

Neuroscientists who study the components of achievement, happiness, and productivity say that this experience of “Flow”, sometimes referred to as “being in the Zone”, is a critical aspect in the prediction of future success, and in the belief that we can get what we want in our lives.

What is Flow?

Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Dr C!), who has done much of the research in this area describes it as “being one with the music”. Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance says this:

“Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best.” “It’s the moment of total absorption. Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through the roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply.”

Here are some of the elements of the Flow state:

  • Clear goals
  • Loss of feeling of self consciousness
  • Altered sense of time
  • Balance of ability and challenge-(fully employing core capabilities to meet a goal or challenge)
  • Sense of personal control
  • Experience of intrinsic reward
  • High degree of focus

Unfortunately, many professionals find this state of flow to be illusive. In fact, a recent Gallup pole found 71% of U.S. workers are disengaged from their work, and spend less than 5% of their day in flow. It is estimated that if that state of flow could be increased, even by 10%, that productivity could be doubled! (Kotler). Additionally, a 10-year McKinsey study shows that top executives reported being five times more productive while in a state of flow.

How can Flow be created?

There are many conditions that can lead to a flow experience. According to the Applied Neuroscience Institute in California, the brain is drawn to novelty and “newness” in its’ desire to expand, and it is this exposure to novelty and the experience of being “slightly out of your comfort zone” that creates the conditions for flow states. When we are on automatic pilot, and doing “the same old same old” routines, there is no incentive to be in flow. However, when things get “shaken up” and an environment is created where there is a reasonable degree of unpredictability and complexity, the brain “wakes up”, and is more likely to “get in the zone”. Sometimes, intentionally doing things slightly differently will help create these conditions. Of course, being outside of our comfort zone involves some degree of risk, but it is precisely this risk that helps the brain be in flow, so incentivizing risk, or at the very least, creating a culture where taking risks is safe is important for increased productivity.

Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Of course, focus is another important element in this equation.   When our environment is set up to reduce distractions, by diving totally into a task, and focusing on that task only, for at least 15-30 minutes, we can often achieve a sense of effortless performance and high quality outcomes.

Much of the research in this area, also emphasizes that there needs to be a good balance between our strengths and abilities and the challenge of the work involved in order for us to tap into that sense of enthusiasm, meaning, and purpose, which are part of the flow experience.

Young creative woman sitting with feet upAs executives, leaders, and professionals, we might want to ask ourselves:

“How am I creating an environment for myself, and those with whom I work that will increase the likelihood that flow states can be achieved, and productivity, engagement and happiness can be maximized?”

We invite you to step back for a few moments now and ask yourself what one thing you might add (or subtract) that would help create an environment for more FLOW…

For more information on how Arden Coaching can help you and/or your team members maximize their FLOW contact us here.
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