How do you get yourself and your team “in the zone” on a regular basis? Here’s a bit of executive coaching on how to lose yourself in your work…
We’ve all had the experience of being totally involved in something to the point where we completely lose track of time. In these moments, we tend to be performing at our peak, in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed “flow”. Csiksgentmihalyi found that increasing the amount of time spent in flow tends to increase energy and performance in the workplace.[i]
Naturally, we would all like to spend more time in this state of peak performance/flow. So how do we do it?
Executive Coaching Point: The essence of achieving flow is that task demands must be matched with an individual’s level of skill.
If an individual is given a task that is too easy for their skill level, they will quickly become bored. Likewise, if an individual is given a task that is too difficult for their skill set, they are likely to become frustrated and/or anxious. Check out the chart below:
The place you want to be is right in the middle of this chart in the section labeled “flow”.
Let me share what I mean by using what I think is the best example of a system designed to create flow: video games.
Whether you grew up playing Pong or Mario Brothers or Call of Duty, all good video games have something in common: they have levels. In level one, when your skills are low, the task demands are also low (i.e. in the bottom left corner of the chart above, in the strip labeled “flow”). After you play for a bit, your skills increase, which would tend to move you to the right towards boredom.
Except that video games are tricky. As soon as you master a skill, the game gets harder (e.g. level 2), which serves to put you back into flow (by moving the skill level up on the chart). As skills increase, task demands increase… which is why you get sucked into video games, lose complete track of time, stop eating meals, and generally can’t hear your mother calling you. Video games keep you in flow for long periods of time.
The implications of this research offer suggestions for how you should manage your staff, and how you should manage your personal time. The most important of which is that you have to remember that your staff needs to be challenged more as they develop increased levels of skill. Otherwise, they will rapidly become bored.
Likewise, if you have a staff member who seems anxious and frustrated, you may need to decrease the demands on them until they have mastered the necessary skills.
As for some executive coaching on how to enjoy your job more, to the extent that it is possible to keep yourself focused on tasks that match your skill level, you will perform at a higher level and enjoy yourself more.
Here are a few key executive coaching points around flow to remember:
- Stretch your staff. Give them more difficult roles as their skills grow. Their skills will not stay stagnant.
- Vertically load jobs: think about making jobs more intellectually demanding rather than just asking for more of the same.
- When a task gets mundane, look to systematize it and then delegate it to less skilled staff.
- Delegate tasks that are too easy or too difficult for you
One last point. Reading this, you may be thinking that “flow” must happen a lot more at home more often than at work. In fact, the research suggests just the opposite. People actually experience “flow” at work significantly more than at home. -Perhaps it is the increased challenge often forced upon us.
So get after it, and see how you can structure your work and that of your team to get more performance and enjoyment out of each day.
[i] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial,1991.
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