Arguably, one of the most attractive features of working as an entrepreneur is the freedom that comes with it. The ability to choose your own schedule, work as much or as little as you like, and make your own decisions can result in amazing output or lead to disaster depending on the individual approach. One of the most important elements in how this freedom is used appears to be productivity.
In the entrepreneurial world, efficient time management and the ability to delegate or collaborate is well documented to yield great effects. There are countless productivity hacks, and tools to help you organise every second of your day. Yet there is an important element missing in all of this. What do you do in the actual moment you are supposed to be productive? It’s all planned out, the calendar is set up, the to-do list notifies you what needs to be done. But in the moment of execution, are you being as productive as you could be? Is your actual output in the moment at it’s full potential? In addition, as an entrepreneur we constantly face curve balls almost daily, which make our previously well organised plans redundant – what happens then? And how can we make the most of our time in these situations?
How we perform during these periods is critical. Thankfully, for all entrepreneurs listening there is a way for us to maximise our potential for success through the improved productivity that comes with flow. Flow, is a concept that can provide some of the answers. 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. Meaning if we worked all day in flow on Monday we could take the rest of the week off. Any takers?
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. This is important for the entrepreneur or CEO who must not only manage what they do with their time, but also maximise the benefit of the actual time allocated to various tasks.
Time management is about prioritisation and what you do when. But flow 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.
Productivity is not only vital for the individual but for teams, and entire organisations. In Forbes magazine, 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. He argues that every team comprises of jobs that require a lot of brain power and that our current work scenarios are not providing the optimal platform to maximise efficiency and output. Ideally 30-50% of a productive day should be spent interrupted. 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. James Slavet challenges us to measure this in our teams. 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.
So, how do we minimise distractions when you are in productivity mode? John Reed, the former CEO of Citigroup kept his office door closed from 7am to 10am every day, refusing to take any calls or visits until he opened his door. Follow Reeds lead and get creative. Set up your working environment for yourself and your team to achieve maximum output and flow. Look to find flow on a daily basis or get a flow coach. The difference between finding flow frequently or not whilst working, not only is the difference that makes the difference to success, but also makes the job a whole lot more fun.