While there are plenty of solutions that streamline the work experience, many employees nevertheless struggle to get in the flow.
Indeed, whether it’s an unending barrage of digital distractions (even some birds don’t Tweet that much!), the scourge of collaboration overload, a misconfigured business agile approach where people are frenetically working faster instead of intelligently working more efficiently, or any other culprit, flow is arguably the most engendered species on the business landscape. In fact, some recent graduates just starting their careers may not believe it ever existed, and is instead some mythological creature — not unlike that fabled entity known as the “lunch hour.
However, flow does indeed exist, and reclaiming is not nearly as difficult as trying to trap the elusive Snipe (hint: try chocolate!). Rather, it’s a matter of looking at flow as an acronym rather than a concept. With this in mind, here’s the simple formula to help you get into the F.L.O.W.:
Focus is an essential element of flow, because it allows your concentration and consciousness to dive deep into an activity. To this end, when engaged in meaningful work, turn off – or at least dial down – the internet, email and social media. It will be there when you get back on the grid (whether you want it to be or not).
Liberate yourself from familiar, but low priority or superficial tasks that create a sense of “busy-ness,” yet don’t advance you towards completing key objectives. This will give you a much clearer and simpler idea of what you need to do, and on what you should invest your limited, valuable time. Yes, the size of your to-do list will be smaller. But your contributions will be far more valuable to your team, and far more satisfying to you.
Some people think the only way to trigger flow is to avoid structure. Paradoxically however, flow requires some degree of organization — or else chaos ensues. As such, designate specific times during the day and week when you’ll be in “do-not-disturb” mode. This is less about training other people to leave you alone during these sacred times (although that can be a nice bonus :), as it about getting your body and mind in focus-friendly shape. Just as how you can train your body to awaken at a specific time, you’ll soon get to the point where you slip into flow at optimal times.
With this being said, it’s OK to make adjustments based on emerging priorities and changing plans. Stuff happens and being organized should be an advantage, not an impediment. Just don’t make canceling a scheduled flow session the norm — or else ironically, canceling it will become the habit you develop!
W: Work Management
As noted above, getting into the flow is largely a matter of commitment and willpower. But it’s not entirely about your efforts, because it also depends on your work management system. For example, if you’re inflicted with 100+ emails a day (or maybe an hour) and you’re forced to use spreadsheets and prehistoric tools and software to run projects and programs, then regardless of how hard you try to get in the flow, it simply won’t happen. Indeed, you can be the most focused driver in the world, but if your car can’t make it to the end of the street without calling a time-out, then getting from Point A to Point B (let alone the rest of the alphabet) is not possible.
The way to ensure that your flow-mobile is roadworthy is by using a collaborative work management (CWM) solution that:
- Automates repeatable, standardized tasks so you can focus on high-priority, high-impact items.
- Puts internal and external correspondence in context, so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out which piece of communication is associated a work object.
- Uses personalized dashboards so you can see your prioritized task list right away
- Gives you a single, centralized place to create, manage and give/receive directions on documents (few things kill flow faster than version control problems).
The Bottom Line
While flow can be elusive in today’s fast-paced enterprise environments, it’s certainly not extinct. Employees at all levels simply need to embrace the principles of F.L.O.W. in their work — Focus, Liberate, Organized and Work Management — and enable their colleagues to do the same.