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Short: How to trigger so called "flow" phenomena during everyday work routine (which is not really challenging)?

A bit more detailed:
On Wikipedia site about flow we can read:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. [...]

We can also learn, according to Csíkszentmihályi, that we must meet following conditions to find ourselves in that state:

  1. Clear goals.
  2. Immediate feedback.
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity.

Let's face the truth, often (at least in my case) we need to get things done doing jobs that are not really an opportunity. How to transform these task into challenging ones?

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I know this is not really answering your question, but if the task is menial and doesn't represent a business opportunity, it's screaming to be automated. Even simple things that require human supervision, like replying to customers, can be largely accelerated by the use of templates, reminders and such. –  Riviera May 21 '13 at 21:13

7 Answers 7

Flow is overrated. Persistence is the key. If you persist in working no matter how you feel and what you are in the mood to do, you will beat everyone who has the idea they must be in a flow state to work. You will get into a flow state at times, but it is best not to rely on it as necessary to work. So never worry about it, it will come naturally when the time is right. But probably 90% of the tasks you need to do as a programmer can easily be done without being in a flow state. The rest can be done with more difficulty if not in flow, but the challenging tasks will tend to trigger the flow state on thier own with no effort on your part. You don't need quiet, you don't need concentrated time, you need something fascinating to do. If you work persesistently every day at it, you will knock out the work and the flow state is more likely to come if you are persistently working than if you are waiting for perfect conditions (hint there are no perfect conditions in the work world) to begin.

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True, but doesn't answer the question. You might be misunderstanding the concept of flow though. Studies (by Csíkszentmihályi) have shown that people who are not in flow for 48 hours will form symptoms similar to a serious psychological disorder. Most people are in some form of flow throughout their day, with lightly challenging tasks like cleaning dishes, reading a book, or replying to messages on forums. –  Muz May 24 '13 at 13:48

I think this is a more sophisticated version of the questions we often get on gamification. I don't think there is much question that modern video games draw the user into a near-perfect state of flow.

Looking at the three components:

  1. Clear goals.
  2. Immediate feedback.
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity.

We can draw parrells with GTD's next action lists which is defined as “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.”

That certainly counts for option 1 - personally I find that I like a bit more of a condition on my goals and so I use the SMART criteria a lot as well.

Done right (and I do occasionally do it right) every item on my todo list is both a phyiscal action and it's also specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. And that list of actions then matches all of the commponents given for flow. And quite often I do really hit a very nice level of flow with it...

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Mindfulness training is known to facilitate getting into what's called "flow". Such training is inspired by Buddhism, and uses regular meditation to clear your mind from non-productive thoughts.

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+1 I've found this, but I've not been able to get my experiences down into words properly... –  Joe May 19 '13 at 20:18

I have done a bit of research on this topic for other reasons, but my understanding of flow and the associated focus and such is that this is the result of an emotional involvement or motivation, which releases different neurotransmitters in the brain than when normally focusing.

I don't know of a way to "game the system" of your neurotransmitters, but if you can find a way to make yourself want to do whatever it is you're doing, or to get emotionally invested in it, that should help with achieving flow.

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Flow is harder to achieve for coders then for artist. This is because flow is a state of mind where you don't have to think but only to react and interact with you current task. This Comes easy to an artist but is hard for coders. We have to think about what we are currently doing and this will brake any flow. Only when you're a great coder and don't have to think about your doing, then the flow will become possible.

In my case the flow comes every morning when nobody disturbs me and I hear music while coding. Unfortunatelly the rest of my day I have to work without flow. But I'm glad to have flow moments even if they are too short.

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It doesn't come easy for artists either. –  HLGEM May 15 '13 at 18:20
    
For me (designer/illustrator) it's a matter of training. Life drawing switches my mind in the flow state automaticaly. –  Hexodus May 16 '13 at 19:02

A nice article on flow in the workplace: http://www.fastcompany.com/53713/art-work

It's not easy, though. Csikszentmihalyi himself has said that it's difficult to actually try to create flow for industrial purposes.

So far, what's worked in creating flow in the workplace is to get yourself assigned on tasks that are neither too hard or too easy. This works well for your employer, as it's the fastest path to skill gain. Management would also need to relay the goals of the task clearly to employees, so that the employee can clearly see the progress.

However, it's quite management heavy in that it requires people to go one-to-one with employees, and continually reassess what they're capable of doing.

As an employee, however, there's little you can do, unless you can pick the difficulty of your tasks. Tasks that are too difficult can be made easier (and in flow) with persistence and hard work. Tasks that are too easy can be made harder by putting some performance goals (like trying to do more tasks in a shorter period of time).

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Reading an article about design I step onto something interesting, which may actually be useful in making everyday tasks more an opportunity for growing (which may help get into the flow state).

"Design everything you do"

During my first internship out of college, Stella Lai gave me this tip and it has been the best professional advice I ever received. Try to practice this tip as literally as possible. The obvious areas are how you dress and how your house/apartment/room is organized. I would suggest not stopping there. Your emails should be written/composed clearly and beautifully. Your conversations with individuals should be designed through how you listen, how you maintain eye contact, how you respond (both spoken and unspoken). Everything you do should have a reason, no matter how small. Design requires constant practice, this is a great way to keep growing.

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