How to Use the Flow to Increase Employee Productivity
As an artist, few things are more genuinely gratifying than sitting in front of an empty canvas and watching your paint strokes — as if by magic — become the masterpiece you had originally imagined. Metaphorically, at least, the same can be said about writers, composers, and even software developers. After all, the other side of the coin, of course, is having to repeatedly rack one’s brain in the hope of eventually mustering a measly kernel of inspiration (while in reality probably running on way too much caffeine and sheer desperation).
But fear not, aspiring Michelangelos. What if we told you that there not only was a way to escape life’s unrelenting distractions, but to skyrocket your company’s productivity and complete the projects that have been pestering you for weeks?
Whether you own a creative agency or a web development service company, the secret — believe it or not — is to simply get into the flow, and as vague a concept as that admittedly sounds, there is a surprising amount of evidence to back it up.
What is “the flow” anyway?
So what then is this quasi-mystical force that enables such a tangible outpouring of creativity? Well, as fate would have it, we don’t even have to hazard a guess, as it was formally identified in 1975 by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
According to him, the flow is a natural “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” The psychologist went on to say that this flow state is equally characterized by an apparent loss of one’s basic senses, as both time and space reportedly fade away. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But can you capitalize on the flow experience?
A Few Important Points About the Flow
Before venturing any further into the dark arts of productivity, it is important to understand a few basic principles that were noted by Csikszentmihalyi about the flow:
- Though anyone may enter the flow state, only those who are exceptionally talented are able to wield it for productive advantage.
- When deliberately attempting to enter the flow, what you focus on will matter tremendously.
- In spite of the popular misconception, being “in the flow” is not synonymous with deep relaxation, as it will actually require intense focus.
- For most of us, reaching the state of flow will demand strategic effort.
How to Get Your Employees Into the Flow
So now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with this concept, let’s move on to the real meat of the matter: how can you encourage your current employees to unleash your company’s productivity by tapping into their flow potential? After all, if you are serious about attempting this approach, you might even want to consider providing a crash course on entering the flow. In any case, the points below can be taught to any professional:
1. Discover when you are the most productive
If you’re feeling tired or mentally drained, achieving a state of flow might be a practical impossibility. As a result, it is important to identify the time of day when you are demonstrably the most productive. Though this does tend to somewhat vary, most people should be more productive in the morning, as after an adequate night of sleep, the brain is usually at optimal performance. So next time you try to tackle that pile of paperwork sitting on your desk, unless you’ve been taking up night shifts, just make sure you’re getting up bright and early!
2. Create the perfect environment
Distractions are the arch-enemies of the flow. With that in mind, before beginning your work, it is best to carefully select a quiet environment where you will be able to shut off the outside world entirely. Of course, nowadays, this means first and foremost turning off your devices’ notifications. But there are other things that could also prove useful. For instance, if you haven’t yet given this a go, you could try putting on some headphones and listening to calming ambient sounds on YouTube, as this will drown out the noises around you and greatly maximize your attentive focus. Just search for “cafe ambient sounds” online and you’ll be amazed at how quickly this can get your juices flowing!
3. Nurture your creativity
When aiming for mental fitness, it is unfortunately not uncommon at all to neglect your physical needs in the process. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that increased productivity is intrinsically linked to your physical health as well, so it is essential to always listen to your body. In practice, therefore, if you’re feeling hungry, eat; if you’re thirsty, drink. And it’s okay to run to use the toilet! You may have a creative spark within you, but it won’t thrive without a healthy body.
4. Practice self-discipline in a new routine
Make sure you allocate time for your chats and emails by making use of time management techniques. The Pomodoro method immediately springs to mind as a great way to train your brain into a new routine. Once your new schedule has become a habit, entering the flow should become second nature to you. Similarly, at the company level, try to improve your organization’s meeting culture so these activities become less sporadic. The added predictability should lead to better planning and more reliable results. On that note, by encouraging the use of the rubber duck principle, you can provide employees with a seamless flow experience whilst greatly minimizing unnecessary disruptions.
5. Focus on flow-conducive tasks
And finally, if you only remember one thing from this article, then put this nugget of brilliance into your mental treasure chest: it is impossible to get into the flow if you are doing something you don’t love. This happens because the flow state lies squarely in that delicate intersection between challenge and work satisfaction. Note too that “satisfaction,” of course, is relative, so even though every job will come with its share of boring, repetitive tasks, the best thing you can do for your company is to fall in love with your line of work. From here, you should be able to apply the flow to even your most challenging day-to-day activities!
Some Final Thoughts
Painting, writing, coding — every one of these separate art-forms can greatly benefit from the state of flow. So in a culture of continuous distractions, aiming to work in the flow state deliberately can give your company a competitive advantage. This is why we encourage every reader to pay due heed to Csikszentmihalyi’s words:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”