Are you in your flow?

Varberg // own photo
Varberg // own photo

 

Time flies when you’re having fun.

I am sure that every once in a while each of us experiences a time when we are so engaged in an activity that the surrounding world does not seem to exist. We are enjoying what we are doing so much that we forget about the passing time and hours feel like seconds. This is how being in flow feels like.

What is flow?

Flow is a state of total immersion in an activity. It is also referred to as ‘being in one’s element’ or ‘being in the zone’. Flow occurs in different situations for different people. Some of us experience flow when we practise sports, some – when we use our creativity to produce a work of art, and others – when we try to solve mathematical problems. But what all these moments have in common is that we use our skills and our energy to the utmost.

When we are in a state of flow our thoughts are focused only on the current activity and we do not waste our energy on thinking about anything else. We don’t think about everyday matters and problems, and can raise above our everyday worries. What is more, we might even forget about our physiological needs; we don’t feel hunger or thirst, and going to the bathroom seems like a waste of time.

How to experience flow?

According to Mihail Csikszentmihalyi*, a psychologist who recognised and named the concept of flow, it is impossible to reach this state without putting any effort. Flow is a reward for taking initiative and for engagement. We experience flow more often when we are actively engaged, not when we spend time on passive activities. So instead of watching sports on TV we should start practising them, or instead of watching adventure films we should search for excitement in real life.

Csikszentmihalyi also thinks that there needs to be the right balance between skills and challenge. Challenge needs to be achievable yet not too easily. If there is too little challenge we soon start to feel bored and unmotivated. For example, some of us might find answering work e-mails extremely unchallenging and therefore will never be ‘in element’ when writing e-mail responses. On the other hand, if there is too much challenge, we feel anxious, frustrated and even defeated. This is how I feel when I try to solve a higher level of sudoku puzzles.

The challenge also needs to involve our skills. We might use the skills that we already have and concentrate all our knowledge and energy on a given task. Or we might expand our existing knowledge and reach another level of know-how.

Examples of flow

I am ‘in the zone’ when I write my blog posts. I really stop paying attention to time and to my needs, and am often surprised when I look at the clock. The other time when I experience flow is when I coach. I love meeting my clients, love the conversations we have, and it happens that we go overtime without even realising it. I can also totally ‘zoom out’ when preparing to coaching sessions; designing activities for my clients, searching for new coaching tools, reading articles or researching put me in my element.

People can experience flow not only when engaged in activities requiring highly developed skills but also when engaged in everyday activities. Some of us will be happiest when cooking, gardening, meeting friends or spending time with a family. Others will be in their element when writing a philosophical essay, giving a presentation at work or preparing a sales report.

What to do to be in flow more often?

If you, like me, would like to experience being in your element more often, try to engage more in activities that you are skilled for and that offer a pleasant outcome. Stay curious and be open to new experiences. Remember that flow is a reward for your engagement, creativity and attention.

If you unsure which activities give you greatest pleasure, start observing yourself. Identify the activities that make you feel accomplished and fulfilled and which give you a lot of energy. Then make sure to assign some time every day for these activities. The more often we experience moments of flow, the happier we feel. No one wants to fall into apathy.

 

When was the last time you experienced flow? What did you do? How did it feel?

 

*To find out more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow refer to this TED talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?

 

Time management and the importance of prioritising

time
Sunset // own photo

 

My friends ask me sometimes how I manage my time and am able to do everything I do. This question puzzles me because I don’t think I do anything exceptional.

Yes, I do consider myself organised. I work four days a week, I take care of our child, and I take care of the house. Nothing unusual, right? On top of this, I try to establish myself as a coach. This means that I run this blog and am currently working on improving my website. I constantly want to learn new things that can help me with my career; I took three courses in the past 1.5 years and now am looking for a course in writing. To me, what I do isn’t anything unusual. I believe that a lot of us could make similar lists, couldn’t we?

Having a goal

In my opinion, the key to time management is having a clarified goal. Knowing what you want helps you focus on the activities that will get you there. It can be one of those big life goals, like starting a family, building a house, moving to a new country or completely changing a career path. Or it can be a smaller goal; something that you want to achieve in the coming months or years. Once you realise what is really important to you, you can start planning your days by choosing the right activities and resigning from the ones that present little or no value to you.

Prioritising and planning

Do you know which of your activities are important and which aren’t? Have you ever had a proper look at your everyday routines and analysed their usefulness? Is what you doing every day bringing you closer to reaching your goals? I have, and such analysis astounded me and gave me great insights.

Let’s have a look at the four quadrants of time management. This approach to time organisation was presented by Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’*. Covey recommends focusing on important things before they become urgent, and emphasises the necessity of planning. By following this advice we should be able to limit or even avoid stressful situations because we take time to predict, plan and prepare.

The four quadrants of time management:

URGENT

NOT URGENT

 IMPORTANT

I

 

II

 NOT IMPORTANT

III

 

IV

Below is the same grid completed with examples of activities:

URGENT

NOT URGENT

 IMPORTANT

I

crises

deadlines

problems

II

planning

prevention

recreation

 NOT IMPORTANT

III

interruptions

some calls

some mail

IV

trivia

time-wasters

some calls

Analysis of your time management skills

Now it is time for you to complete this chart with your everyday activities (download).

After you have completed the grid, take a while to thouroughly analyse activities in each of the quadrants. Here are some thoughts and questions to help you with the analysis:

Quadrant 1: These activities are urgent and important, and need to be dealt with immediately. They can be a result of your poor planning. What can you do to avoid ending up in situations requiring you to make important decisions under pressure?

Quadrant 2: These activities are important but do not need imediate action. The items that you listed here require time, preperation and attention. What can you do to improve your planning and to start every task having an end result in mind? What can you do to shift your daily activities to this quadrant?

Quadrant 3: Here we have activities that are urgent but unimportant. They might be a result of the lack of planning and/or motivation. What can you do to eliminate unnecessary emergencies and to minimise the number of items in this quadrant?

Quadrant 4: In this quadrant you listed unimportant and non-urgent activities. These items bring little or no value. What can you do to minimise or eliminate time-wasters?

Once you have done the analysis and sifted through your daily activities, you should be able to start planning your days and managing your time more efficiently. And remember that your goal is to stay in the second quadrant. This means that you should focus on making plans, building relationships with people, looking for new opportunities, relaxing in order to stay balanced, etc.

 

What are your reflections after doing this analysis? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

*This model is sometimes also referred to as ‘Eisenhower Box’ or ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ because it was developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the USA, served as a general in the United States Army, and also became NATO’s first Supreme Commander. He lived a very productive and organised life.

 

Let go of the things you cannot influence

influence
Varberg // own photo

 

How many areas of your life can you influence?

I will now try to list the aspects of my life that I have a lot or some control over.

Let’s start with my health. I know that I can influence my physical health by making the right food choices and by exercising. I can also influence my psychological well-being by staying positive and by deciding how much I let others affect how I feel.

I can make decisions when it comes to my career. I am able to educate myself to make well-informed choices when it comes to my professional life. It is only up to me to decide to take on another course which might advance my career. I might as well choose to be idle and enjoy comfortable life without professional challenges.

I can influence my appearance. I can choose what I wear. I can choose my haircut. I can choose to have the right amount of sleep not only to be healthy but also to look well-rested. Or I may decide to sabotage my health, well-being and appearance by going to bed late. It is up to me.

I can decide, or rather co-decide, how to bring up my child, bearing in mind that my current choices will affect her future. The way she sees herself, what she eats, how she spends her time – my choices will shape her as a person.

I can control how and with whom I spend my time. I can choose to hang around good friends who are truly pleasant to spend time with and whose company enriches me. Or I can decide to surround myself by a large number of random people whose company is fun yet doesn’t bring much value. The choice is mine.

I can decide what I think of myself and of others. I can shape my opinions. I can change my opinions should I feel like it. It is only me who decides what my thoughts are.

I can decide what I eat for dinner. I can decide which route to take to work. I can pick what to eat for lunch. I can choose whether to watch TV or to read a book. I can pick my internet provider and my mobile company. I can choose my partner. I can choose to leave him.

I cannot choose what others think of me. I cannot decide what other people decide – it is just up to them. I have nothing to say when it comes to my sister’s choices – it is her life. I cannot decide who wins the next election, even though I do vote. I have no control over the stock market and over the world economy. I have no influence whether the wars end sooner or later, or f they end at all. I don’t have much to say when it comes to political decisions; it is just out of my hands.

There are already so many choices I am making in my life every single day. There are so many areas I CAN influence. Why would I be wasting my energy on anything that is out of my control?

So here is my mantra: identify what you can control and then focus on what you can influence, change and improve. Let go of the rest.

 

How do you feel knowing that you don’t control it all, and you don’t have to? Let me know in the comments.