Today I’m enjoying a blog writing day. I’m away on holiday, and we’ve finally sunk into the Italian summer groove. It’s a quiet day with the laptop, immersing myself in an important task that I rarely find the time to do.
I have just looked at the time: it’s 3:53pm.
3 hours have passed since I first sat down to write.
I feel content, focused, clear on what I’ve accomplished, and could do another 5 hours of writing. This is Flow.
Psychologist and theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was first inspired to conduct research on the Flow phenomen when he observed people in the aftermath of war. Living through the Second World War, he saw effected people crumble and sieze in their tracks after experiencing this tragic traumatic experience. However, he also observed an equal amount of people who responded differently. This group of people used these negative experiences to motivate them into an abundance of generosity, creativity, kindness and selflessness. Amazingly, they were able to find joy and satisfaction in the simplest moments in life and lived in the present.
Shortly after he observed this, Csikszentmihalyi launched interviews with over 8000 people to measure the emotions and responses they experienced whilst completing every day tasks. Many in his sample reporting losing time in the contentment and satisfaction in the most mundane of tasks, which brought him to further explore this state, which become his life’s work on Flow.
Flow is the state where we find ourselves in a satisfying space where mindfulness, focus, attention and skill come together to create a sense of timelessness, flow and positive mindset. It can have a positive impact on mindset and stress levels, not to mention productivity. Flow involves complete engagement in what you are doing in the moment, where full attention is being paid to the goal you are achieving. A sense of synthesis, that you are working on all cylinders, that everything is connected and reliant upon each other. As a small business owner, Flow is particularly valuable as we operate in an environment where we are resource stretched, time poor and often trying to wear sixteen different hats. Finding flow unlocks hidden productivity.
So what does Flow look and feel like?
Clarity of goals: You know clearly what you have to achieve, and goals are very defined and clear.
Ongoing internal feedback: You are aware that what you are doing is moving you closer to the goal. You receive clear instrinsic feedback on the task. Every second, you are monitoring your progress.
Activity is matched with your skill and ability: What there is to do, is matched with what you are able to do. Much like the different hats in your business, if the task is below your skill level, you will eventually get bored. If it is too demanding, you will feel stressed.
Focus and concentration is increased: This fourth factor only comes into play after the first three are achieved. You have a single beam of focus, which means you can accomplish a great deal more as you are effective and efficient.
Increased wellbeing: Because you are focused, every day frustrations feel further away. Flow brings on a meditative state, and creates more energy, calmness, less stress and clarity on what provides satisfaction.
Mastery of your actions and experiences: During a flow state, you teeter on the edge between boredom and stress, where your skills are used in their completeness. Your sense of competency increases. You may find satisfaction in the most miserable pursuit.
Abandonment of self-consciousness and ego: During flow, you don’t worry about what others think. Your self-confidence increases and you step into your true capabilities which produces better, more innovative results.
Sense of time is transformed: Time adapts itself to your experience. You can be unaware of the world around you, and often lose hours in the pursuit of the moment. Like a good yoga class or meditative session, time feels less important.
How to do we invite Flow into our businesses? Flow is a difficult state to cultivate unnaturally, as it can’t be forced.
However, we can do a few things to prime our environment, our mindset and our focus to ensure we are in the best possible state to get into Flow:
Find something to love about the task: You can still achieve flow if you are doing a task that you don’t enjoy. Try to focus on three things that are positive about the task at hand, and write them down. Find passion in the mundane.
Find meaning in the task: Find a positive, long-term impact of the task at hand to keep you focused. eg, if the task is doing the bookwork, if you do this now to a high standard, you may only have to minimally maintain the job for awhile. You will feel more organised, reduce overwhelm of looming receipts and invoicing, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
The task needs to be challenging, but not too hard: If a task is too easy, you will get bored and find it hard to focus. A task should be challenging enough to require your full concentration. On the opposite end of the continuum, if the task is too hard, it will create stress and you may disengage and feel discouraged.
Mood Task Match: Ensure you are completing the task in the mood that will be most effective. We’ve written a previous blog on how to do this. Be aware of the time during the day when you are low on energy, or feel flat. Carve out the time during the day and week that you are most likely to focus, and succeed.
Perservere: Grit takes practice. Beginning your chosen task and maintaining focus on it for as long as you can is an art. At first, it will be difficult to block out the outside world, turn off your phone, and stop yourself looking at emails and social media. But keep practising, and keep bringing your focus back to your task.
Enjoy the experience: Losing yourself in Flow is an incredible feeling. It’s empowering, creative, constructive and energising. Take the time to appreciate this feeling and make time for it in your week by leaving a day without back to back meetings, with freedom to choose and be.
Bringing Flow into your busy week can build your productivity in the business, it can banish that small business stress of flighty task hopping and never feeling satisfied by your output and outcomes. Next time you experience any of the symptoms of Flow, write them down as a reminder of what was right in that moment for you.
Craft is led by Melbourne based coach and consultant Ami Summers.
Ami has spent more than a decade as an accredited coach and leadership development consultant.
Clients that have worked with Ami consistently say she is a compassionate, wise and deeply pragmatic coach with a gift for empowering the individual or business owner to see they have the resources to transform themselves and the world around them.
She is accredited and experienced to deliver a number of diagnostic tools to help unlock an individual or teams capability and strengths.
Craft’s main focus is to deliver valuable business results whilst bringing out the best in an individual or business. We do this by sharing creative leadership tools that are typically only available to large corporates.
We offer individual coaching, leadership development consulting services, group mentoring and small business coaching. Get in touch if we can help you bring more Flow into your business.