When I go speak to an organization, people come up to me and ask me a lot of questions, and sometimes people send me their questions. And so I thought, well, as part of Roger’s 2 Cents, I’ll answer these questions.
So recently somebody sent me a question, someone who attended one of my seminars, and I’m going to answer it now.
Question: “Can you explain, briefly, the concept of flow, and also answer: ‘What are some of the effective tips to quickly regain focus when you’ve been interrupted out of flow when working?'”
So FLOW is one of my favorite topics. So this guy, his name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some people pronounce his last name “chik-sent-me-haly”. You know, I’m lucky to get that far.
Um, look it up…type in “mihaly” in your Google search and the rest of it will come up. But he coined the term “flow” which is that time when you’re concentrated on a task, and you’ve probably all experienced it, where you’re kind of joined with the work you’re doing, and everything else falls away. You kind of lose your sense of time. And that’s when your best work occurs.
So, Csikszentmihalyi looked at this in the 1980s, and what he found, and the subsequent research has shown, is that people who experience flow (or in athletics we call it being in the zone) when you lose this sense of time, when you join with the work, he found that people who experience flow everyday or nearly everyday are happier than the people who don’t experience flow.
And so the correlation between happiness, life satisfaction, and flow is very strong. And so, what is flow?
So this is Roger’s definition of flow: it’s solving a challenging problem in your domain of expertise.
So for me, I’m in flow when I’m solving people problems and thinking problems, because those are problems in my domain of expertise. I like solving those kinds of problems.
I mean, human beings were built to solve problems. It’s what engages us in life.
Now, it’s important to remember that if you’re solving a challenging problem not in your domain of expertise, you will not experience flow. Like me and plumbing. Er…any kind of plumbing problem, I’m never in flow.
So what am I? I’m frustrated. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I don’t like solving plumbing problems, because I’m no good at solving plumbing problems.
But flow is when you get that, that, that thing you’re trying to solve…it’s just…it’s really hard, but it’s really interesting, and you lose the sense of time. That’s where creativity is. That’s where scientific discovery comes from. And that’s where happiness comes from.
So, what do you do to stay in flow?
One of the things is to get rid of distractions? You know when somebody comes to your office and says, “this will just take a minute”. Do you know how long it takes you to get back into flow? About 20 minutes. So anytime somebody says, “Just take a minute.” That means, it will only take them a minute, but it will take you 21 minutes to get back to your work.
So it’s important that you let people know, ‘This is a time, a space, when you’re not allowed to interrupt me.’
I worked with a company once, and they had a cubicle environment. And they had very concentrated work that they were doing. So people put yellow police tape up over the cubicle, and if the yellow police tape was up (you know, Police line – do not cross) that meant they were working on a deadline, and you couldn’t even talk to them. They got the Japanese screens, those rice paper screens they’d put over the entrance to their cube so people wouldn’t bother them and they could get into flow. So when you need to get back to flow, part of it is being aware that, ok, my concentration has been distracted and it’s going to take me about 20 minutes to get back into the zone.
So rather than beat yourself up and say, “Must concentrate! Must concentrate!” I mean, that’s only going to frustrate you. Just go back to your work. Say, “Ok, it’s 20 minutes it’ll take me to get back in here, but I will be able to get back into flow.”
Then if you find you can’t get back into flow that day…ok it’s lost that day. It will come again. The important thing is to provide yourself the opportunity. Uninterrupted time, where you’re in a comfortable space to solve the problem that you find challenging.
That’s flow. That’s how you stay in it. That’s how you get back in it.
That’s Roger’s 2 Cents.