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How to Work in Flow (and Why You Should Do It)

After years of intense study on the processes of creativity and productivity, Hungarian psychologist Professor Mihály Csíkszentmihályi discovered that the secret to working at an optimum level was to enter a mental state that he described as “working in flow.”

Man wearing a suit sitting on a grass under the sunlight

This state of working in flow has been described as entering a mental state of highly focused attention. This intense leaves little room for anything else as the worker becomes totally absorbed in the task at hand and is said to feel like they are “one with the activity”.

During this state of heightened concentration, the body generates a unique blend of performance stimulating neurochemicals including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that flow through the brain.

Amplified by Theta and Gamma brain waves these addictive pleasure inducing chemicals serve to stimulate deep seated motivation, narrow focus and strengthen pattern recognition.

In this state the brain is not only capable of processing more information from different sectors of the brain but linking it together more rapidly.

Naturally, workers working in flow are going to be more creative, more productive and potentially groundbreakingly innovative.

Workers capable of working in flow are capable of making that deep dive into high performance without suffering the usual feelings of burnout and fatigue.

Creating an environment that facilitates individuals being able to work in flow is highly desirable as workers not only will be more engaged, but their work quality is almost certain to be of a higher standard.

Cultivating a flow state in a workplace environment requires input from both worker and employer. Condition conducive to stimulating working in flow states include:

  • The presence of clearly defined goals supported by a strong organisational culture is likely to empower workers to become invested in the project.
  • The availability of immediate honest feedback is a great way to encourage and nurture focus. Professor Csíkszentmihályi valued immediate feedback so much that he proposed that work activities should be restructured to enable immediate feedback consistently.
  • Matching challenges to skill levels. Setting a challenge commensurate with skill levels is crucial to facilitating the flow state. When the challenge is set at too low a level – apathy and boredom are the likely reactions, while setting the challenge too high is almost certain to cause anxiety and stress. When our skill set is in line with the challenge, engagement is much more likely. Abilities need to be stretched and tested but not broken.
  • A merging of awareness and action can only occur when workers are required to use their full skill set to solve problems and complete tasks.
  • Greater concentration and focused attention are likely to occur when challenging tasks are set. Total engagement in and commitment to the task will help a worker to keep a single-minded focus on the task at hand.
  • Perceived control of the situation. Workers are more likely to perform well when they feel that they have the ability and support to cope with any obstacle that they encounter.
  • A loss of self-consciousness. Much mental energy is wasted on worrying about status and how we are perceived. An atmosphere that encourages independence will help to foster a willingness to experiment and “go out on a limb”
Stressed man leaning on the table with laptop, paper and mobile phone

Some of the real hindrances to creating an environment conducive to creating the working in flow state are stress and multitasking.

Multitasking reduces focus and while often promoted as fostering productivity, may in fact hinder it.

The mind cannot focus on multiple tasks and workers constantly multitasking are not likely to enter a state of flow.

Stress on the other hand is not always a bad thing. There is a certain level of stress called eustress where the balance of capability and the challenge are positive, When the task is too great for an individual’s ability the stress then becomes debilitating and harmful.

A work environment where employees are deeply engaged, and their work develops to be more complex as they develop in the role is the most likely working environment where people can work in flow.

How could your team benefit from working in flow? Get in touch with ChandlerWoods today to discuss how we can optimise your organisation’s performance.


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