Entering flow

What is it?

Flow is the rather un-scientific phrase which describes the ultimate state of productivity. The state where you lose all track of time and end up completing tasks partially on auto-pilot and feeling great about the amount of progress you’re making. The momentum is only lost when someone pulls you away, you run out of tasks or you find yourself in the early AM.

You get to watch the progress of great work being completed whilst investing almost no effort. If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Level one

If you can, customising your workflow so that you are entering flow as frequently as possible should be an ultimate goal of all of the productivity tools you use. Having a system that just gets the job done isn’t enough as each new day of effort will cost you the same amount. If instead you actively improve your workflow so that you enter flow more frequently, the amount of daily effort you apply will become less and less.

Over time this means that you can have far more enjoyable days, or you can expand the amount you get done with almost zero increase in effort. You’ll effectively have a free budget of effort.

Everyone is different, which is why you’ll need to find and build a system that works for you. Post It notes, batch checking emails, structured procrastination, whatever it takes.

I’ve spent the last few years adopting and tweaking various apps, browser settings, physical desk setups and now have a system that really works for me. I doubt my to-do list would help anyone but me, but it only needs to help me, your system equally should become what works for you.

What matters is that your stream of work is broken into (or as near as possible) pieces of work that:

  1. Are clear and have immediate feedback
  2. Require a high level of concentration in a limited scope
  3. Are a good balance between your skills and the challenge

Try and have a criteria so that you know when the task is done. Break tasks down by the level of concentration required rather than how much time they’ll take. Divide tasks into smaller tasks until they are a challenge you can overcome.

Level two

Once you understand how to process your own work, you can look to process the work of others.

We’ve all seen projects where someone is board whilst another person is completely stressed out. Ideally, the whole team should be challenged but on top of the problem, the whole team should be in flow.

This is a fantastic diagram which I think managers should use to optimise teams.

I can’t take any credit as it was made by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975.

You should only delegate tasks where the receiver is on the right-hand side of the arousal-relaxation line, ideally aiming for the flow segment. Delegating tasks on the left, indicates flaws in management, not in the team.

For truly critical tasks, being in the control segment could be advantageous and putting staff in the arousal segment can be great to grow their abilities and confidence. Often knowing what you are trying to achieve is half the battle and this diagram is a great, high-level tool, for assessing who should get what task or if you need to rethink a project’s delegation structure / onboard additional resources and personnel.

Enabling yourself and your team to enter flow is one of the most powerful tools a person can wield. With it, your team will excel, as will their outputs.

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