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Flow at work: Three questions

Senia Maymin, MAPP Bio

Senia Maymin researches change and runs a Web site of daily research tips for happiness and success.

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Flow at work: Three questions

Senia Maymin, MAPP


In last week’s blog post, I described flow. Today, I’ll walk you through three questions to getting towards more flow at work.

We know that flow is when your skills meet your challenges. So I have three questions for you:

1) When in the past week have your skills been greater than your challenges? You’re a deep-water diver, but the oxygen tank wasn’t available so you had to snorkel instead. What situation at work did you have where you had to snorkel instead? When did you feel nearly embarrassed to be working on a project so childish?

That’s like last week’s example of the bored employee. Skills are much greater than challenges. And it’s important to note that two – not just one, two – solutions are possible. You’re bored. You can:

  • Increase challenges: pick up someone else’s project; go further than you need to on your own project.
  • Decrease skills: Use skills you don’t usually use to work on this like writing with your other hand or preparing a presentation using only images; set yourself some interesting constraints.

2) When in the past week have your skills been lower than your challenges? You’re an ice cream truck owner and teens have been breaking out in knife fights and fistfights in front of your ice cream truck all week. Cops have to be called to drag the teens apart. In what situation at work are you not able to stop the fistfight right in front of you? Where is the challenge overwhelming and potentially debilitating?

This is me last week – stressed and overextended. Everybody goes through these points at times. The getting-to-flow technique may just help you get out of stress sooner. You can:

  • Decrease challenges: You really can delegate, or let go of a project, or remove it from your priorities list temporarily.
  • Increase skills: You can talk to other people about how they handle the same situation; you can see what other skills people use; you can use the buddy-system and do a project with someone to get a first-hand view of what skills they’re using. (We had a first-rate strategy consultant in my MBA class, and people were intimidated to work in a group with her. I got paired with her for a project, and I never learned so much about how to approach a strategy problem as on that group assignment: the buddy system of learning by observing is effective for increasing skills.)

3) When in the past week have your skills met your challenges? When did you feel most alive and in the zone?

How long did that last? Where were you? Perhaps at your desk working on a project with no phone calls. Perhaps exercising and caught up in the moment. How can you bring more of these days to your weeks?

It’s almost like we’re playing with the three bears here. When were challenges greater than skills – when was the bed too hard? When were skills greater – when was the bed too soft? And finally – when did skills and challenges match – when was the bed “just right”?

Wishing you a week of “just right” skills and challenges.

Senia Maymin’s column highlights exercises from the field of positive psychology to increase happiness, resilience, and productivity

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