How Do You Know When You’re in the Zone?

For those of us who want to spend our time better.

For those of us that get a certain kind of high off productivity (hello, fellow happy workaholics!), the feeling we’re really looking for is flow. (You know, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s gift to positive psychology? I can’t pronounce his name either. First or last name. I think his friends call him Mike though.) 

If you want more info on what I mean by flow, the wise people at Wikipedia concisely summed it up (as they are concisely apt to do) as this: “In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

Given that it sounds magical, and given that I haven’t been flowing along as whitewater-rapid-like as I’d prefer as of late, I did some digging.

What’s an easy way to tell when you’re in flow– in a zone of optimal performance where every worker-bee and leader alike undeniably wants to be? How can I help clients gauge when they’re doing the things that light them on fire with passion so that people come from miles to watch them burn (that was a bastardized quote from John Wesley)?

Since awareness is the precursor to choice, I searched and found three simple signs to assess whether something is a motivator in your work (from Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick in Inc.com):

  • You look forward to doing it. What aspects of your life and work do you eagerly anticipate? To be clear, this is the opposite of dread. Dreading a job or a task or a conversation is So Not Flow. I’m watching for the things that get me out of bed in the morning, and trying to do more of exactly whatever that is.
  • You feel energized while doing it. What makes you feel like you could pull an all-nighter? What tasks or jobs do you feel so immersed in that you lose track of time? What makes you lose self-consciousness because you’re so in the zone? (I know when I’m in flow when my face gets alarmingly red.)
  • When you talk about it later, you light up. I worked with a leader once who was best described as… sullen. Talking about his P&L was a total downer (AND HE WORKED IN FINANCE!?) When he started talking about his passion of flying, though, he became a completely different person- animated, excited, ALIVE. Another client started taking more business development work only after specifically noticing that she recalled her successful sales outings with the very passion that she yearned for when she spoke about her operational work.  

Ask yourself those three questions again and again, until you pinpoint when you’re in that productive and satisfying state of flow. You might not be able to clear everything off your plate that doesn’t get you into the zone (accounting makes my face red but not in that good Mihály Csíkszentmihályi kind of way), but you owe it to yourself to try and plan to spend more time doing the things that light you up. And then actually do them.

 

“What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the mornings, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”— Pedro Arrupe

 

Jodi Wellman

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and finally got a Happy Spectacular logo tattoo.

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