When was the last time you were working on something and completely forgot the time? You were so immersed in your activity that you actually forgot your next meeting and got there late.
A state of flow
This is called a ‘state of flow’. Csikszentmihalyi writes about this state of flow in his book. He describes this as an ecstatic state. Being in a state of flow feels like immersing yourself completely in whatever you are doing. Nothing matters, but the task you are focusing on right now.
Some great side effects are that the state of flow also increases our happiness and our performance. Whenever we enter this ecstatic state, we are more capable of solving the complex problems we are facing on a daily basis.
Match your task challenge to your current skill level
You can achieve this state of flow by working on something that:
- Requires an above average skill level.
- Has an above average challenge level.
- The challenge level matches your current skill level.
When the challenge of your task does not match your current skill level, two things can happen:
- Anxiety. When you are working on a task of which the challenge level is too much for your current skill level, you will experience anxiety. Over time you will experience pressure and stress. If you continue in this state for a longer period, this could even lead to physical complaints like a burnout.
- Boredom. But if you work on a task which is too easy for you, you will get bored. The most direct consequence is that you will start making mistakes, simply because you don’t take your task seriously. But over time this could also lead to demotivation because you stopped learning new things.
Beware of distractions
But there is one other thing that can break your state of flow: distractions.
Getting in a state of flow takes time. For a normal person, it takes around 20 minutes to reach a state of flow. So every time you get distracted by a phone call, WhatsApp message or a colleague with a question, it will take time to get back into this state of flow. Unfortunately, we are subject to distractions a lot throughout a day.
Some simple tricks to handle such distractions:
- Disable notifications of emails and WhatsApp messages and only check them when you have time.
- Use the rubber duck. Place a rubber duck on your desk whenever you are trying to get into a state of flow (and let your colleagues know you are not to be disturbed when the rubber duck is present).
Whatever you are working on, try to enter the state of flow. It will improve your happiness and performance.