Matching your skillset with exciting challenges is the key to success.


what is flow?

When was the last time that you were so absorbed in your work that you actually lost track of time?  That you felt so immersed in what you were doing that an unstoppable sense of joy began to radiate throughout your entire body?

At that time, you were probably experiencing what psychologists call flow. Flow is a powerful state of consciousness that can have the following qualities: deep focus, clarity, the feeling of being a part of something larger, and even ecstasy. It is the state that great artists create in, that scientists invent in, and that you harness when you are at your best at your job.

That’s right. Flow is not just for painters, surfers, or your weekend bowling league games:  it’s for every day. The key to finding flow at work is having the right challenge for your skillset. If the challenge is too great, you may tip over into anxiety, and if it’s not enough, you’re going to be downright bored.

Imagine coming to work knowing that you’ve set yourself up for at least some hours of flow every day! That sounds motivating.

Simple Ways To Get More Flow In Your Workday

Use your skills. Notice what your predominant mood is at work: are you feeling a little bored or disconnected? If so, look for ways to increase your responsibilities to have a more exciting challenge. When you’re using skills that you are invested in developing further, you will have a more appropriate challenge to take on.

Strategy: Write a list of skills you would like to be using at work that you are not currently using. Think about how these skills could be useful to your team, and propose it to them. You’ll be surprised how willing they are to work with you when you bring your best self to the table!

Seek support. If you feeling overly anxious at work, your challenges may be larger than your skill set. Remember that not all stress is bad stress! If your level of stress encourages you to excel and work hard, you may already be in flow. If, however, you feel like the stress debilitates you, it’s high time for an adjustment.

Strategy: Write down the most stressful challenges at work, the ones that make you feel completely overwhelmed, and plan to get support around them. Ask for collaboration with a co-worker or manager. Find someone who is really good at your challenge area, and invite them out to lunch to ask about their best practices. Take a class or online seminar to up your skill level in your major challenge areas. You’ll be flowing in no time.

According to this TED Talk with leading psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the researcher who has pioneered flow research over the past four decades, another key to finding flow at work is a balance of altruism and engagement. In his interviews with the most successful CEOs, defined as top business leaders who were both financially successful and ethical, he found that they, “Define success as something that helps others and makes you happy.”

Be altruistic. Is there a way for you to help others through your work? Can you see a connection between your job or company and the positive effects that it has in the world? Not everyone works at a non-profit, or saves lives as a medical doctor or EMT, but we all have the opportunity to positively affect others through our work.

Strategy: Take 5 minutes and write down all the ways that your work helps others in the world, whether that be clients, co-workers or a wider group of people. Post this list at your desk for motivation!

Strive to be happy. Noticing what makes us happy at work helps us to create more of the same. Was it the million dollar deal your brokered last year? Or the conversations you have with your co-workers during lunch? Do you love the quiet time concentrating on a project with headphones on? Or is it the stimulating ideation sessions with your team that gets you going? What makes you happy is unique.

Strategy: Write down all the things about your job that make you happy, from the small to the epic. Read this list once per day or keep it near your desk and glance at it throughout the day. In this simple way you can cue your subconscious to notice your positive work experiences, and to produce heightened feelings of contentment.

enjoy your increased flow states at work! here’s to more productivity and more satisfaction.