Britain should get its priorities right. So puritan have we become, we look on relaxation and the desire not to work every single hour of the day as morally suspect. Politicians should stop endlessly urging the rest of us to sweat. The work-until-you-drop idea may exist high-status professionals. For these people the appearance of harried overwork is almost a status symbol. But to be a perfect cog in a capitalist machine is not the highest human calling. If aspiration means anything, it should be the desire not just for a good job, but for a good life.
In this post I explore a few of the ways you can achieve this:
Do only the big tasks with big returns
Of all the tasks on your to-do list, which is the most important? Not the one that will take the most time, or that you want to do least. The most important task is the one that will give you the biggest return. All the rest is busy-work — focus only on the key tasks with the most value.
Stop being achievement-motivated
There’s nothing wrong with achievements or being proud of them. It’s a natural thing to feel good about what you’ve accomplished. But it shouldn’t be the only thing that motivates you. What’s a better motivation? Doing things you love, creating something great, being with people you love and doing things that are exciting.
Stop working after a certain time, say 5 or 6 p.m. Make this a hard line: tell your office not to call you after this time. And don’t take your work home. Once the clock hits this time, you’re done for the day. The rest can wait until tomorrow.
Second, don’t check email or do other work-related communication after this point. Turn off the iPhone, even turn off the computer at home, and do something else.
Third, schedule other things into your life. Exercise with a friend after work. Make dates with your partner. Take your kid to soccer practice. Set aside time for a beloved hobby. These things will stop you from working.
Put simply, it’s a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully immersed in a task, forgetting about the outside world. It’s a concept proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
When you’re in the state of Flow, you:
- are completely focused on the task at hand;
- forget about yourself, about others, about the world around you;
- lose track of time;
- feel happy and in control; and
- become creative and productive.
It can take practice, but you’ll get better at it. Here are the key steps to achieving and benefiting from Flow.
Key steps to flow
Choose work you love. If you dread a task, you’ll have a hard time losing yourself in it. If your job involves stuff you hate, you might want to consider finding another job. Or consider seeking projects you love to do within your current job. At any rate, be sure that whatever task you choose is something you can be passionate about.
Choose an important task. There’s work you love that’s easy and unimportant. And then there’s work you love that will make a long-term impact on your career and life. Choose the latter, as it will be a much better use of your time, and of Flow.
Make sure it’s challenging, but not too hard. If a task is too easy, you will be able to complete it without much thought or effort. A task should be challenging enough to need your full concentration. It may take some trial and error to find tasks of the appropriate level of difficulty.
Find your quiet, peak time. This is actually two steps grouped into one. First, you’ll want to find a time that’s quiet, or you’ll never be able to focus. Whatever time you choose, it should also be a peak energy time for you. Some people get tired after lunch — that’s not a good time to go for Flow. Find a time when you have lots of energy and can concentrate.
Clear away distractions. Aside from finding a quiet time and place to work, you’ll want to clear away all other distractions.
Learn to focus on that task for as long as possible. This takes practice. You need to start on your chosen task and keep your focus on it for as long as you can. At first, many people will have difficulty, if they’re used to constantly switching between tasks. But keep trying, and keep bringing your focus back to your task. You’ll get better. If you can keep your focus on that task, with no distractions, and if you have choses your task well (something you love, something important, and something challenging), you should lose yourself in Flow.
It won’t happen overnight. Change gradually, but surely.
What do you think? Why not leave a comment below: