With seemingly less time in the day, executives are constantly trying to balance multiple competing demands. Achieving success in every single area seems impossible, such is the nature and quantity of these demands. However, harnessing cognitive flow can allow executives to vastly improve their productivity, thus achieving more within the same period of time.
Flow is the cognitive state where you become fully absorbed by the task at hand, are highly energised, creative and productive. While in flow, you achieve intense focus, become immersed in the task and forget about the outside world, while you perform at your peak or stretch beyond former limits. Another characteristic of flow is a feeling of joy and positivity while performing the work.
Implementing some of the eight rules of high performance will help you to be more effective, however, the combination of all these rules will allow you to achieve a flow state, which will drive hyper-effectiveness. It will have a profound and dramatic increase in not only your productivity but will also provide clarity to your decision-making, reduce stress, enhance your creativity and for many people substantially increase fulfilment and happiness.
Research shows that executives working in a state of cognitive flow can increase productivity by an incredible 500%. In other words, you can achieve in one day what others take an entire working week to do.
Flow is an optimal mind state and considered to be a peak human experience. Contrary to common belief, these pinnacle moments occur, not when we are hedonistically relaxing but instead when we are working at the limit of our abilities; when we are truly engaged and challenged.
In order for a cognitive flow state to occur, you must perceive the activity as enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), voluntary, challenging (but not too challenging), and it must also require skill. There needs to be clear goals towards success and you should receive immediate feedback on your progress. 1
Positive Psychologist Mih´aly Cs´ıkszentmih´alyi describes flow as:
‘‘being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’’2
Flow is known by different names: athletes say they are ‘‘in the zone’’, jazz musicians ‘‘are in the pocket’’, share traders ‘‘in the pipe’’, stand-up comedians are ‘‘in the forever box’’, while software designers call it being ‘‘wired in’’ or ‘‘operating in software time’’.
During a flow state, people:
- have a sense of being in control
- lose track of time; hours whizz by or in some cases it slows right down and time dilates (like a freeze frame in a car crash)
- are focused on the present moment and the task at hand
- forget about the outside world, other people and themselves
- feel happy, creative and productive.
Task characteristics which promote flow
Flow requires tasks that:
- you really enjoy — choose a task that ignites your passion and plays to your strengths
- are important — you probably won’t find flow doing trivial tasks, no matter how much you enjoy them
- have clear goals and feedback
- are challenging but achievable — this is about pushing out of your comfort zone and working at the peak of your skills
- involve an element of emotional, financial or physical risk
The state of flow lasts longer for different people. For some, it is only minutes of hyper-focus, for others the state may last several hours. For the rare few, they may be able to sustain flow for a period of days.
By harnessing these periods of cognitive flow as often as possible, executives can improve their productivity and increase their output. This will reduce inefficiency, remove the need for long hours at the office and improve overall wellbeing and stress levels.
Learn more about cognitive flow and how to increase your productivity by as much as 500% in my upcoming webinar: Harnessing Cognitive Flow to Drive Clarity, Productivity, and Creativity.
1 Kendra Cherry, ‘‘What is flow? Understanding the psychology of flow’’, available at psychology.about.com/od/PositivePsychology/a/flow.htm.
2 Nakamura, J. and Cs´ıkszentmih´alyi, M. (20 December 2001), ‘‘Flow Theory and Research’’. In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology (Oxford University Press) 195–206.