Getting into Flow Starts with You

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

You’ve likely heard about the benefits of working in a state of “flow,” being able to to arguably do our best work. While research has shown which environments and activities enable states of flow and which hinder it, new and surprising insights into how we can actively get into our flow continues to arise.

For example, on The Huffington Post, author Daniel Goleman dives through research from the University of Chicago, giving us three powerful ways to get into the flow at work. Goleman writes:

The first method involves assigning tasks according to skill set. In the Chicago study, this was put in terms of the ratio of a person’s abilities to the demand of the task. The more a challenge requires us to deploy our best skills, the more likely we will become absorbed in flow. 

When we’re not challenged, our performance suffers and we become disengaged. That’s the plight of a large portion of knowledge workers, some statistics suggest. Upping the challenge would help to immerse these workers, and for a lucky few perhaps get them into flow. 

…we can get into a state of flow through fully absorbed focus. The stronger the concentration we bring to a task, the more likely we are to drop into flow while doing it. While the other paths to flow depend on external factors — the challenge/demand ratio, finding work that aligns ethics, excellence and engagement — full focus is an inner dimension. The better our ability to pay attention to what we choose and ignore distractions, the stronger our concentration.

How often do you find yourself thinking that you can’t get into a work flow because of external factors? According to Goleman, if you want to really get into the flow of things at work you shouldn’t blame how the office environment or other’s attitudes makes you feel. Instead, you should attempt to find work you can get authentically excited about, work that challenges your abilities, and — most importantly — work that allows you to focus seriously for at least a few minutes every hour.

Read Goleman’s insights on getting into a state of flow at work right here.

PreviouslyNot Too Hard, Not Too Easy: Finding Flow In Your Work

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Use the Restroom Test to Make the Most of Conferences

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network like a pro at events. Over at Atomic Spin, Phil Kirkham gives us three tips on how to get the most from a conference or event. Our favorite is The Restroom Test, a way to check how well you’re doing at mixing and mingling with your fellow event-goers:

Take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.

Even if you’re not overly shy, conferences can be intimidating thanks to the sheer number (and talents) of those around you. If at the end of the conference, you still find yourself among only strangers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not making the most of your time there. At the heart of it, Kirkham’s Restroom Test is a great way to not only help measure the number of new people you’re meeting during the event, but also to strengthen your memory of them. 

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Paul Jarvis: Find Your Rat People

rats

Illustration of Paul Jarvis’ rats

Web designer and author Paul Jarvis wants you to find your “rat people.” These are the people who are passionate about the same things as you, in Jarvis’ case, that’s pet rats. Not everyone is going to have the same interests and that’s perfectly alright. However, stay away from those who insult you because of who you are.

The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting don’t truly matter. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.

Your rat people get what you do and love it. These are the people you should look for as clients, have on your mailing list and friend on social media. Too often we let the client decide if we are the right designer for them when we should be questioning if they are the right client for us. Jarvis reminds us, “for your creativity to support you, you need to find your 1%. Your rat people.”

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Recover from Failure with a Deep-Tissue Post-Mortem

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Creative professionals who practice rapid iteration believe in the mantra of “fail fast, fail often.” And while quickly bouncing back from mistakes is essential to accelerated progress, not adequately reflecting upon failure can prevent complete recovery. Sometimes, deeper reflection is needed.

Founder and CEO of “failure consultancy” Fail Forward, Ashley Good, recommends performing what she calls a “deep-tissue post-mortem” to thoroughly recover from failure:

Our tendency in times of failure is to try to figure out what caused it, fix it as soon as possible and move on. That undermines the depth of learning that’s possible.

Good suggests asking the following questions to get started:

Try to figure out why the failure happened. What assumptions were made? What experiences led to it? That really deepens what you can learn from the experience. Also, listen to other perspectives on what happened. I often bring together different stakeholders in the failure to talk about it. If you bring five people together, you’ll get five different stories about what went wrong.

Don’t just sweep the failures under the rug and move on. Take some time to sufficiently prepare yourself for when you will, inevitably, fail again.

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For Better Ideas, Use Your Blank Space

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Intentionally leaving part of an idea blank can actually make it more engaging. Over at Harvard Business Review, author Matthew E May describes the benefit leaving intentional spaces in our work creates:

When we respect the white space — or when we intentionally create by removing just the right thing in just the right way — we allow others to fill the void, adding their own interpretation and impact. In fact, I’d argue that some of the most engaging ideas have something purposefully missing. Limiting information engages the imagination

There is nothing more powerful than the ability of the human mind to create meaning from missing information. Whatever form your idea takes–strategy, product, service, startup–if you want it to “tip,” you might just want to make it more about less.

A great example of this strategy in action would be working on a story — for a novel, or a project storyboard — and creating only the beginning and the ends. Presenting the story to your peers allows them to generate their own ideas for what happens in-between, ultimately creating a more powerful story than if you had otherwise come up with it entirely, from beginning to end, on your own.

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Got a Great Idea? Find Your “Devil’s Advocate” First.

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

You’ve come up with a great idea to advance your work. It’s going to change the world! And it’s so great, that you move fast to execute it. But not so fast says Todd Henry, the founder of Accidental Creative.

No matter how great an idea sounds, if we don’t properly evaluate it, we run the risk of not shaping it to its most optimal state, seeing all possibility, or foreshadowing potential problems.

So when a genius idea strikes, Henry suggests we:

Spend time thinking about the opposite viewpoint. If you were going to make an argument against it, what would it be?

Find someone to play “devil’s advocate.” Ask them to challenge you with questions that provoke doubts and poke holes in your idea.

Pause – just for a moment – before execution. Why? Because the initial excitement over an idea can lead to ignoring obvious blemishes and result in substandard work.

It’s hard to argue against a promising idea, especially one that seems like a game-changer, but pushing ourselves to deconstruct the idea helps to ensure we’re moving forward with the best possible course of action.

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Don’t Answer Emails That Lack Questions

Trash by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Trash by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Is it rude to ignore emails? Yes. But does it happen anyways? Yes. And can anyone blame you? Your inbox is cluttered with emails of no consequence, including one of the worst offenders: the email that lacks a question. Kristin Muhlner, CEO of NewBrand Analytics, shares her rule for emails that don’t move projects forward: ignore them.

“I love email…But unless I’m specifically asked a question, I don’t respond. If a CEO responds, everyone thinks they need to respond back, and that kicks up a lot of dust.”

You’re super-busy; it’s tough enough to do your work AND triage emails in a timely manner. So should you respond to every email? Here at 99U, we think not. Unless an email is making the way forward clear, feel free to hit delete.

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Relevant: Should You Respond to Every Email?

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