Focus + Flow: Hard Work But Without the Struggle

This article is reposted from my first blog (TGIMworklife). It was first written in January 2007 and was one of the first posts in that brand new blog. You can read the original version here if you like. A slightly revised version follows below.  P.S Who knew back then that I”d write a book called ‘Ease‘. You’ll see the idea ‘ease’ referenced in this article. Enjoy!

Also, please note the invitation to an upcoming Teleclass on “Focus and Flow” (Sept 23, 2014) at the end of this article. Or see here for more detail and registration.

There’s so much reported angst in today’s workplaces. People are working hard, running hard and balancing increasing loads on their work-life plate. But does hard or ‘intense’ work have to equate with struggle? Absatively not!  I want to set one thing straight: A TGIM work-life  (‘Thank Goodness it’s Monday and all through the week”) is not about making work easy per se – rather, it is about having more ‘ease’ in doing your work….ease as in ‘the wind is at your back…..working with you and not against you.”

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Most people — particularly high performers and high potentials – want to be challenged, tested, stretched so that they learn, grow and shine at work! That’s part of what makes work meaningful for many people.
Sure – there are a lot of work-life issues that contribute to wear and tear on us and that sense of ‘struggle’. But for today, I want to focus on just one question:

What does hard work look like without struggle?

Think of those times when you worked hard – really hard — and yet at the end, felt a sense of achievement, energy and even inspiration. Those times might be what we call “Flow” experiences. Flow, according to experts, is an essential ingredient to an engaged life and work experience. Without it, you’d be bored, uninspired, flat. I call that ‘Fizzle” (an Eileenism:).

Renouned psychologist and author of “Finding Flow“, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick sent me high”) says ‘flow’ is essential if we are to be engaged in life and at work.
The problem, however, is that we tend to walk through our lives not paying attention to our internal states (emotions). We are attached to our ‘busy-ness” and float between two extremes: during the work day we live filled with anxiety and pressure of work and competing obligations. Then during leisure we might be so tired we can default to passive boredom. The key is to be more mindful of what activities engage us and to participate to the point of flow.

Essential Ingredients to Flow:

Flow activities are best experienced when the activity has the following ingredients, according to Csikszentmihalyi:

• Has our full attention
• Challenges us and requires skill
• Has clear goals
• Provides immediate feedback
• Might be hard work but feels like deep, effortless involvement
• Gives sense of control

So going back to your examples of those moments you came up with (hard work but energized and inspired after), can you see how this criteria played out? Now think about your current work-life. Do you engage in enough activities that…

Challenge you and call upon use of actual skills — or are they ‘mindless’ activities?
• Engage your full attention?
• Have specific goals attached and if not, can you create some for yourself?
• Provide immediate feedback (e.g. a sales call) — and if not, can you create a criteria for feedback that you can look for?

If you are sitting there and say: “nah….my work has none of that,” I encourage you to tap into your creativity and try to make small changes in your work on your own to try to incorporate more flow. You don’t necessarily need a whole new job. You just need to pay attention to what inspires you; what skills you want to incorporate; and a few other things. It’s worth the effort.

Post-script (the next part has been added September 2014):

If your work-day has too many distractions and is filled with multitasking, then try to:  Carve out some boundaries to protect small chunks of time (even 20 minutes at a time); and commit to an activity that you can focus on and that can promote a feeling of flow

For me, writing is often a flow activity. I set a small goal of starting to frame an idea; or write a first draft, etc. Before I know it I get ‘lost’ in time and feel recharged and energized.

I’d also like to invite you to come to my complimentary Teleclass: Focus and Flow on September 23rd at 12:30.  Join in on a discussion with like-minded people also interested in finding more focus and flow in their days.

Details and registration here…

Eventbrite - Ease Talk #3 (Sept 23): Focus and Flow -- Maximize Energy and Brain-ability

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One Response to Focus + Flow: Hard Work But Without the Struggle

  1. The Performance institute October 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Thanks for this awesome sharing! I believe we need to learn more to be a good /effective leader. So I have something to share a article about coaching processes.
    Hope you give time to read and find it helpful.Because the value of coaching is
    to help everyone create a life of delightful design, from the inside out.
    Success then becomes a beautiful by-product to celebrate
    when you’re standing strong, long after the “fashion of success” fades, and the lines of fans have gone home

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