Research on Flow and Productivity

Consider how you spend your time. How much work you get done during an average day? An average week? Now imagine being five times more productive. Not five percent more productive. But five hundred percent more productive! (Steven Kotler)

Hungarian professor of Psychology Mihali Csikszentmihalyi initially described the notion of flow in his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, where he describes it as a ‘state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation, a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.’

Since his initial description and exploration in the 1970’s, flow has been utilised in elite sports and in the offices of top executives alike due to the profound effects it has on performance.

A 10-year McKinsey and Co. study on flow and productivity found top executives 500% more productive when in flow. Let’s just take a moment…..that is five times more productive.

In other words, if one was able to achieve this on a continuous basis, one could work all day in flow on Monday and take the rest of the week off, and achieve the same productivity.

Being in a flow state or “in the zone” allows for deep concentration and ultimate immersion in the task at hand. This allows for complete attention on a subject and maximises productivity and output in a given time frame. It is about the how you do what you do. Using flow in your day-to-day means devoting 100% of yourself to the task at hand. Flow is about doing one thing, doing it undistracted, and doing it well.

The clincher however, is that productivity is not only vital for the individual but for teams, and entire organisations. In fact, in a Forbes interview, James Slavet of Venture Firm Greylock Partners suggests a new metric to measure a great start-up team. He calls it the ‘Flow State Percentage’, which is the proportion of the day employees are in flow as a measure of performance.

Slavet’s reasoning is that every team comprises of jobs that require a lot of brain power but current work scenarios are not providing the optimal platform to maximise efficiency and output. According to research, 30-50% of a productive day should ideally be spent uninterrupted. Things such as emails, phones, meetings, colleagues all snap us out of flow when we are really starting to get things done. Studies show that getting back into flow once interrupted takes 15-20 minutes, if possible at all. This is why Slavert suggests that every team and organisation measure this: How much time is spent interrupted and in flow in a day? Divide this by the number of work hours and this is your flow state percentage.

In addition, it has been shown in research that people in flow can learn between 200 and 500 percent faster. Kotler believes that this is because, “when in flow, our attention is so laser-focused that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Times flies. Self vanishes. And all aspects of performance go through the roof”.

He says that a considerable pile of research shows that whilst in flow, people are more confident, capable and aware.

Thus, all of this suggests that, flow’s effects on performance are both very real and really astounding.

Creating Flow in Organisations

All of this research speaks to the power of flow. However, the question left unanswered is:

“How do I get more flow in my life, and how do I get my team more in flow?”

Through our unique approach to consulting, our advanced talent analytics and or core methodologies, we at BIOSS SA are able to both understand what type of challenge will be required within different jobs and levels in an organisation, as well as what type of challenges will keep individuals in flow. Further, through real-time analysis of growth curves, we are also able to predict when this optimal match between the individual and their work will change, and how it will change. This means that we are able to assist companies predict exactly where flow can be achieved, and where and when issues with people out of flow will manifest.

BIOSS SA can help your organisation reduce unnecessary costs by ensuring that all employees are working in roles that put them into a State of Flow thereby increasing your Assets and reducing your Liabilities (i.e. improving your Capability Balance Sheet). We can achieve this in 4 steps:

  • Helping you to understand work complexity via a Levels of Work Audit.
  • Assessing employees’ capability via the Modified Career Path Appreciation (MCPA).
  • Creating organisational maps to determine where flow will and will not be experienced.

Reduce the gaps by matching employees’ capability to the appropriate work complexity thereby creating the conditions for flow and optimal work output and performance.

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