In flow days

A friend and two of my clients are deeply immersed in getting a few marketing items into place. I too, since mid-February, spent time on marketing, revamped pages on my website, created new pages and gave attention to related items.

It struck all of us: If you are serious about getting something done, spend some uninterrupted time on whatever you do. The key to achieving something remarkable is the uninterrupted stretch of time that you devote to whatever topic.

Psychologists talk about the concept of going into a state of “flow”, becoming so immersed in what you are doing that you loose track of time. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in the publication that placed him on the map, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, outlined his theory that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow – a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing.

Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (Interview in September 1996 with Wired magazine, as covered in Wikipedia.)

To quote him further:  “Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments of our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times … The best moments of our lives usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary moment to achieve something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen … For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” (Csíkszentmihályi’s name comes from “Saint Michael from the province of Csik,” Csik being originally a Hungarian province.)

A marketing specialist advises that one should spend one day per week on marketing, that is, 20% of a work week. This is excellent advice not only because of a day devoted to marketing, but because of the results one gets if one concentrates without interruptions.

I instituted a weekly “Flow Day” in February and to date managed to keep to it a number of Mondays in a row with surprising results. I addressed issues over which I procrastinated in the past – as each required a hefty number of hours to overcome. “Too busy”, was my lame excuse.

How to go into flow?

Firstly, get the environment right. Mondays are perfect as many business people prefer not receiving visitors on a Monday. (Most of my clients certainly do not want to see me on a Monday.) Adopt a no-interruption mindset. Ensure that interruptions are simply not possible. Put everything on hold.  Accept no telephone calls. Nobody has access. Inform the odd person who wishes to make an appointment on a Monday that your calendar is fully booked – which it is. Enter an all-day appointment in your diary or calendar. Do not open your inbox and do not listen to voice mails until 15h00 – nothing could really go wrong over a seven-hour period.

Secondly, select one topic or a major project that will require five or more hours. Gather all the information you need the previous (working) day.  It helps if you are interested in the topic and have some knowledge about it. Get a head start. Start early.

Thirdly, focus fully on the task at hand and do not interrupt yourself until it’s completed. Reward yourself when you’re finished.  (I make a great cup of coffee – Cardinal Sins – pure indulgence, or better still, visit a favourite coffee bistro and take along a favourite book.) Enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

What to do with the other four days of the week? These few tips might assist you to go into mini-flows:

  • Red appointments: Make one red appointment in Outlook per day. Set aside one or two hours for either preparing to meet a client or for doing some follow up for a client or for preparing or adapting a new product or service for a client. And do it first thing before checking your inbox.
  • Blue appointments: Make one really important appointment with a person per day. Define “important”. To me these appointments hopefully will make a difference to the person whom I will be meeting. It is not about the importance of the person, but the importance of the possible difference. This is easier said than done, but just experience how it provides meaning to your day.
  • Do not overcrowd your calendar: Leave breathing space between appointments. Some people believe a crowded calendar is a sign of being in demand or of getting a lot  done. Really? Normally an overcrowded calendar tells me you are dead tired.
  • Be outcomes-oriented: Know how to schedule your days around important people and important objectives or topics – and then evaluate the value of each day and week in terms of outcomes. Ask: “What have I achieved?” “Being extremely busy” is not a worthwhile measure.  Have you made a difference?

The “flow” concept was brought to my attention by a brilliant MA student 6 years ago. At that time I thought her thesis was a bit esoteric and I only understood the depth of her insight much later. She was the first South African who wrote a thesis on the importance of “flow” in a business environment. Cum laude. Well done, Celeste!

Develop a flow best practice e.g. institutionalise a no-interruptions two-hour quiet period each day within your work team. Purposefully create a situation which will enable you and your team to go into flow – every day. Your business will benefit and you and your team will feel great!

PS See a related post Level Four “Time Management”.


4 Responses

  1. Nice one Albert – Flow, like passion, apparently requires focus and commitment. Stephen

  2. Yes, and flow also requires structure.

    Passion, focus, commitment and structure.

    All of this recently ensured that you got important things done!

    Thanks for your input! Albert

  3. thanks for the mention, Albert…. another important element of flow… it must be an autotelic experience!.. something you would do even if you weren’t being paid… Too many people are in jobs they hate… this is an enemy of flow.. I am sure you will agree.

    • Celeste, I totally agree. An outcome of going into flow is the intrinsically rewarding experience of having achieved something worthwhile.

      If a person never goes into flow in the work that he/she is currently doing, they should accept this as a strong sign that they have to change jobs. They owe it to themselves and to their employer as they are underperforming tremendously. They are missing a serious experience.

      One should experience the joy of going into flow every day; of feeling deeply exited about a new insight, about a result or about new shared meaning.

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