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.
Brainstorming meetings can be disastrous, often eating up time and leading to poor decisions. Google Ventures has a way to avoid the pain of traditional meetings with a seven step method.
Over at Fast Company, Jake Knapp explains:
The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.
1. Note: Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can…
2. Self-edit: Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites…
3. Share and capture: One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on…
4. Vote: Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard…
5. Share and capture: One at a time, each person says their vote…
6. Decide: Who is the decider? She [or he] should make the final call—not the group…
7. Rejoice: That only took 15 minutes!
The “Note and Vote” technique works by circumventing the usual suspects that cause brainstorming meetings to go awry: personal feelings, fear of being unheard, and building ideas off one another rather than focusing on originality.
Knapp also explains that this approach forces your meetings to be run in parallel (where everyone is contributing at the same time, without shouting) whereas traditional meetings are run in a serial fashion.
We often hear the advice “just start,” but it comes without a clear explanation as to how. Visualizing the gap between mediocre and great work in this way makes it evident that the only way to get on that scale is to overcome the bigger gap between nothing and something.
Over at Buffer, Kevan Lee gives us an answer by taking creative author Shirky’s notes to create The Creativity Spectrum.:
What holds you back from creating something?
For many of us, it’s fear. Fear that something might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.
Overcoming this fear is a huge and important step… Author Clay Shirky noted the importance of the simple act of creating—creating anything, even a silly thing—in his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”
The message is clear: to create great work requires that we create any work to begin with. Because until we have something to work with, great work isn’t even on our scale of possibilities.
Lee provides plenty of other creative insights in addition to this one over on the Buffer blog.
Regardless of where you fall on the “is coffee good or bad for you” debate, there will come a workday when you can barely keep your head up at your desk, and coffee is not an option. Maybe you’ve already had two or three cups with no real effect, or maybe you’ve been trying to quit but still haven’t found a good alternative yet.
As part of Fast Company‘s “Coffee Week” coverage, Lisa Evans offers a number (6 in all) of other options. Here’s a few of our favorites:
Green Tea: This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don’t end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.
Eat Some Chocolate and Have a Laugh: That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%…
Raise the Heat in the Office: That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.
And if what you’re really jonesing for are the sweet, soothing sounds of a coffee shop while you work, there’s always Coffitivity.
Extracurriculars, straight A’s, volunteer work. . . Getting into top-flight colleges demands a ridiculous amount of free time, dedication, and energy, which are exactly the kinds of things that stifle learning. So does that mean that the Ivy Leagues are now producing students who are better at following orders than experimenting?
The New Yorker takes on the issue using William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life as a backdrop:
They’re meant to do it all, and they do. But they don’t know why, or how, to find fulfillment in the absence of new hoops to jump through.
Learning is supposed to be about falling down and getting up again until you do it right. But, in an academic culture that demands constant achievement, failures seem so perilous that the best and the brightest often spend their young years in terrariums of excellence. The result is what Deresiewicz calls “a violent aversion to risk.” Even after graduation, élite students show a taste for track-based, well-paid industries like finance and consulting (which in 2010 together claimed more than a third of the jobs taken by the graduating classes of Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton). And no wonder. A striver can “get into” Goldman Sachs the way that she got into Harvard. There is no résumé submission or recruiting booth if you want to make a career as a novelist.
If our brightest minds are mainly falling into fields like finance, what does that mean for the next generation of leaders?
Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and gave her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.
My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.
But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.
Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:
Don’t do something you hate for a living.
There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.
We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.
Adam Akhtar of Highfive has a great—albeit surprisingly simple—tip to add visual tags to your notebook or moleskin for organizing your notes. All it takes is your notebook and a pen:
The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it [in the back]…
Now you’d go back to the first page where the [note] is and on the exact same line as the…label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge. You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various [notes] you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.
The process is very easy to use, and can be paired with other “hacks” for an added organizational boost (like using different colors for different topics). If you still use a physical notebook, this is one approach you’re definitely going to want to consider.