Project Practitioners > [How to] Increase Flow State Percentage

[How to] Increase Flow State Percentage

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes

 

The following is an excerpt taken from an article written by James Slavet:

After years of leading teams and then, at Greylock, watching some of the best startup CEOs in the world, I’ve learned that the most important metrics are often ones you never read about on the income statement or in the financial press.

 

A few of the companies Slavet has invested in are Groupon, One Kings Lane, and Redfin. In the investing world, metrics like income statements and financial news heavily weigh on an investor’s decision to put money into the brand or company.

Managers tend to measure outputs without emphasizing the importance of inputs. Traffic to your website and revenues and earnings are easily measured to determine how successful a campaign is going. Slavek suggests managers focus on the atomic level. Examples being ‘how to make a meeting better, or an engineer more productive.’

One of the metrics Slavek considers is flow state percentage.

Before I dive into the metric itself, flow state needs to be defined. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as a highly focused mental state of complete absorption in the current experience. Being ‘in the zone’ is another way of describing flow.

This experience is an hour’s worth of work feels like five minutes. An impossible task is possible in a flow state. Everything comes together. You do not know why you reacted in such a way under stress that not only accomplished the goal but did something everyone else gave up on or never thought possible.

Interruptions to the flow state exist at every possible turn. A phone call, an email, someone stops by to chat, and so on are all examples of distractions. Think of these interruptions as costly time delays. Slavek points out that flow states can be reached within 15 minutes of the interruption. However, if you are new to the flow state mentality, you may take much longer, if ever, to get back into the flow.

Take a job like software programming. Hours and hours are spent coding in front of a computer screen. If that work continues to be interrupted, those hours are cut to minutes and compound on each other. Imagine being in the flow state. Everything is coming together. Lines are being written without thought. Your fingers are striking the keys with such fluidity, and nothing else is happening in the world besides the work in front of your eyes.

Then, the door opens to someone talking about their weekend or bringing in their lunch and unpacking it loudly. This interruption lasts a half hour. You need another 15 to 20 minutes to begin flow state again. In total, that disruption cost you an hour. Not only should you account for that hour being lost monetarily but also account for the impact it has down the line. Add up three or four of these distractions throughout the day, and you are losing days’ worth of work.

Knowledge workers need a proper working environment that harnesses the flow state. Slavet recommends 30-50% of your day involves uninterrupted concentration. Like a darkroom for processing light-sensitive photographic materials, these work environments should dissuade interruption otherwise the final product will be ruined.

A personal flow state percentage (amount of time in flow divided by total time at work) should be as high as possible. As listed earlier, 30-50% of your day should be in the flow. How does one accomplish this?

 

  1. Track the number of hours you are in flow over a few days.

A metric must be established to improve a metric. Start to track your day regarding hours of flow. Write this information down and calculate the percentage. If you are in flow state for two hours in an eight hour day (2 divided by 8), you are in flow state 25% of the time.

Remaining at this flow state percentage is not productive for yourself, the project, or the organization. 100% flow state is a perfect world metric. No one possesses this ability. As high as possible is the goal.

If this metric is something new, start to become aware of when flow occurs. Before, this feeling may have been something you just have and did not take note. Now, you take note of when it begins and when it ends. Flow becomes a focus rather than a passing feeling.

FlowTime is a Google Chrome web extension that lets you set the amount of time you are dedicating to work and tracks your progress. The extension saves your data over time so you can compare previous days or weeks. Press ‘start’ on the extension to begin, and whenever a disruption occurs, or you finish your work, you press ‘finish’ to end the timer. The automatic tracking of this extension makes it valuable. You can see how much you are in flow, how many disruptions you run into throughout the day, and ultimately calculate your flow percentage.

 

  1. Brainstorm ways to increase this percentage.

A skunk works setup may be advisable. Separate the group of engineers, programmers, managers, and so on from the rest of the organization. Give them a space where no one is allowed to interrupt. Instruct those around to abide by this accommodation or receive consequences.

Signs on the door or each person’s desk may be another way for people to understand the importance of not interrupting. Like a teenager’s room, ‘caution’ or ‘go away’ gets plastered on the door. Anyone who breaks the code gets a shrill screech as a teenager would do.

A day of no meetings or large blocks of work time is another route to go. In high school, certain classes were blocked out three or four hours at a time to accomplish anything. These classes were predominantly woods, metals, or any other trades offered. One hour in a woods shop with 20 students is nothing. Maybe the entire class could plane a few boards and start to get organized before the hour was over.

The same goes for your knowledge workers. They need time to get into a rhythm and eventually enter their flow state. Having meetings every two or three hours only interrupts their most productive times.

 

Takeaways

Flow state percentage for knowledge workers can never be high enough. If you see your workers at 30% flow state, there is no reason that percentage cannot increase to 40-50%.

The only way to know what this percentage is is to start tracking it. Have your knowledge workers journal their day and add up their flow state hours. Find the percentage, then look for ways to increase it.

These ways will depend on the individual. Some work better remotely. Others might like a war room type atmosphere. One theme throughout each of the ways to enter flow is risk. Risk comes in all forms. The risks I speak of are mental risks like social, emotional, and creative. Loss of respect, resources, and time heighten the awareness of an individual putting them closer to a flow state.



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