Updated: Nov 1, 2020
One of the most common problems people encounter at work is the level of distractions and interruptions they experience. This seems to be driven by the intensity of multiple demands coming at us from all sorts of directions. The result is that frustration builds as our energy becomes depleted, along with the ability to manage our attention and stay focused on getting things done. This takes a serious toll on our work performance and well-being.
Why is it that between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burnt out at work?
Many put this down to the modern context of work and that it’s not just the number of hours we’re working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time. That may be true in part, but the problem also lies in how we respond, in the strategies and habits that we adopt to cope.
What gets in the way?
• What we think • How we feel • Our own expectations • Distractions • Interruptions One helpful approach is to experience more ‘flow’ in your daily work. Flow is an optimal state where you can feel and perform at your best. It is about fully employing your core capabilities to deal with challenges and attain your goals. Studies indicate that people who move into the ‘Flow’ zone are 5-times more productive, experience greater satisfaction in what they do and feel more energized – mentally and physically.
What is the Flow state?
The state of flow occurs when we are so immersed in an activity where it seems that time flies and that you savored the pleasure of every moment. If you've ever experienced the flow state, you may have noticed that you are so concentrated or focused on what you're doing, you forget about what is happening around you. Sounds familiar?
How to find Flow?
There are psychological strategies for triggering a Flow state. Some of these involve:
- Having clear goals - these tell us where and when to put our attention. When goals are clear, the mind doesn’t have to wonder what to do next -- it already knows. Thus, concentration tightens, motivation is heightened and extraneous information gets filtered out.
- Getting immediate feedback - clear goals tell us what we’re doing, while immediate feedback tells us how to do it better. Knowing the steps that will help us improve, allows the brain to stay more focused rather than seeking alternatives.
- The challenge/skills ratio - the sweet spot where the task is hard enough to challenge us and to make us think, but not hard enough to make us feel weak. If the challenge is too great, we are likely to eventually feel demoralised and quit. If the challenge is too easy, we can easily get bored and stop paying attention.
Basically, when we have clarity, we know what to do and where to focus our attention while we are performing the task at hand. Getting that immediate feedback and knowing if we are on the right track keeps our focus and helps us stay productive. Applying the ideal ratio of challenge and skill helps us feel that we are learning and the sense of mastery in us grows.
Thus, these triggers are ways of heightening and tightening focus, of keeping attention into the now and driving flow whiles managing your energy efficiently. I’ve outlined only three conditions, however psychological therapy can help you understand your individual approach to reaching flow and to applying this idea in your daily lives.