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The Psychology Behind Productivity

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Have you ever been so into a project at work that time seems to zip right by and, before you know it, it’s time to leave? There is psychology behind that. It’s called flow.

There are times at work where you can feel like each second ticks by slower than molasses. You find yourself staring at the clock more than you should. But there are times when all of that disappears and your mental focus is in the zone. Everything melts away and your focus is completely on your task. It’s called flow because of the sensation. Steven Kotler over at Entrepreneur wrote an article about this feeling. It’s because of how smoothly and flawlessly you find yourself working and solving problems. There have actually been studies into how flow works. You can find it in sports and science breakthroughs.

But where business is concerned, a 10 year old McKinsey study has shown that people feel much more productive when flow hits and focus is intensified. In fact, executives feel five times more productive, which is a 500 percent increase. The CEO at Virgin, Richard Branson, had this to say:

“In two hours [in flow], I can accomplish tremendous things … It’s like there’s no challenge I can’t meet.”

psychology and productivity

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Kotler has spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out how to really harness that flow. So how did he go about finding out the answer? He co-founded the Flow Genome Project. Their entire purpose is trying to find out how to reach peak human performance. They have found that there are 17 flow triggers: three environmental, three psychological, ten social and one creative. For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on the psychological aspect. One of the biggest researchers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, provided 3 tips on how to narrow in on flow. Check them out below!

1. Clear goals

Once you set a clear goal, your mind is completely focused on that. Your concentration becomes better and any extra little information gets filtered out. All those little concerns or worries that take up space daily take a back seat to the flow.

“This also tells us something about emphasis. When considering clear goals, most have a tendency to skip over the adjective clear to get to the noun goals.”

The only problem you face is the possibility of choking. Think about all those famous people who choked when it mattered most. This happens when the gravity of how important your goal takes over and the anxiety of it can take you off track. It’s a delicate balance to manage the stress and attention.

2. Immediate feedback

This is a great way to make sure that our goals are keeping us in the present. It tells us how we’re doing right away, in real time. Your mind doesn’t derail into the search for betterment.

“Implementing this in business is fairly straightforward: tighten feedback loops, practice agile design, put mechanisms in place so attention doesn’t have to wander and ask for more input.”

3. The challenge/skills ratio

Kotler states that this is the most important of all. The theory behind this is that there is a strong relationship between how difficult a task is and how well we can perform at said task. There is a delicate balance between being too easy and too hard.

“This sweet spot keeps attention locked in the present. When the challenge is firmly within the boundaries of known skills — meaning I’ve done it before and am fairly certain I can do so again — the outcome is predetermined. We’re interested, not riveted. But when we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we pay more attention to the next. Uncertainty is our rocket ride into the now.”

Looking for more ways to become efficient? Reach out to one of our business improvement consultants!

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Alyssa Shea

Alyssa Shea

Alyssa Shea transplanted from Illinois to South Carolina. She loves to write, read, and spend time with her dog and her family. Alyssa is very active on social media. She has been part of the AccelaWork team since 2013.
Alyssa Shea

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