“Flow is about respect.” These were the words a CEO of a successful tech start-up recently told me on how leaders can get employees into flow – the optimal experience of total engagement and peak productivity. In other words, the ability of leaders to get their people to experience flow more frequently comes down to one of the basic human values.
For an individual to achieve a state of flow, it requires complete focus and an environment free of distraction. In the modern workplace, where an ongoing stream of slack messages, emails, texts and calls have become just as ubiquitous as our morning coffee, achieving this state is increasingly elusive and, therefore, sacred. Leaders, however, often don’t pay much mind to what their direct reports are doing in any given moment, whether that means interrupting them at their desk or emailing them late into the night. While this can be necessary at times, it should not be commonplace.
When someone is deep into a project and is interrupted, it is not only irritating, but stifles their productivity. Researchers from UC Irvine found that it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on the task. It also can send the message that their time isn’t valued if it can be so easily interrupted. Time is among our most valuable commodities, and if our time spent in a peak experience is needlessly diverted to complete a menial task for a boss that ultimately could have waited, this not only makes us less productive, but stifles our creativity and passion for our work.
It is through deep flow experiences, when we find ourselves fully invested in a given activity, where we often develop an appetite to continue seeking these activities out. A pianist will be far more likely to love playing the piano if she is able to grow her complexity by playing more sophisticated songs at a high level as she continues to practice. If a pianist is constantly interrupted when sitting down to play, therefore having to continue to reteach herself the same section of a simple song, she may become frustrated and not understand what could have been had she been able to devote her full attention to it.
At work, one common tactic some teams have implemented is utilizing the calendar not only for meetings, but for uninterrupted “flow” time. If someone has a high-priority project, they will block up several hours on the calendar to work on it. This time is highly valued and respected, where people are considered unavailable whenever it’s blocked on their calendar. When individuals are given the space to fully engross themselves in a project, they are not only more productive, they are able to develop their skills and improve at whatever it is their doing. While honoring someone’s ‘flow’ time will take some getting used to from leaders who are used to having their people available to them 24/7, but it has long-term benefits for both sides. Leaders will have more productive, engaged, and happier people, and these individuals will feel valued, respected, and ultimately develop their skills and grow.