the ceo magazine, productivity,
Camille Preston, CEO and Founder, AIM Leadership

Most leaders already know that amazing feeling of being in the zone, or in flow. What many leaders don’t know is how to generate that feeling more often and help others do the same.

The concept of flow was first studied by University of Chicago psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi over forty years ago. Flow is a state of high cognition where we are present and intentionally focused. A 2013 study by McKinsey & Company found that executives who can increase the amount of time they spend in flow by 15 to 20 percent double their productivity. Clearly, then, being in flow is great for the bottom line, but how do we get there more often?

While what gets you into flow is deeply personal, there are at least a few common habits, mindsets, and hacks that can help you find flow more often. The first step, however, is to create more bandwidth (a key ingredient of flow).

Finding More Bandwidth

Flow requires the ability to think deeply, which means creating bandwidth. Think about your brain as a computer—the more programs that are open, the slower it processes. Fortunately, creating more bandwidth is easy with a few simple hacks.

1. Create Systems

There are often more things demanding your attention than you have the capacity to retain. Use helpful apps like Wunderlist to capture to-dos and prioritize them.

2. Build Once, Use Many Times

Create systems around any and all re-occurring tasks – from paying monthly bills to responding to client emails. If you can automate the task, do it. If you can’t automate the task, at the very least set aside a discrete amount of time to get the job done (e.g., only respond to emails at a certain time once or twice a day).

3. Optimize Your Environments

Know the conditions under which your work is truly supported. If you thrive working in public spaces like cafes, do it. If you need to be on lock down in a silent chamber, ensure you have that space. If you need snacks or great coffee on hand, be certain you have those supplies.

Getting into Flow

1. Prepare

First,step back and get clear on your outcomes, but also remain flexible in the approach. Be strategic and engage in deep thinking about what needs to happen. What do you want? Why do you want it? What do you need to do to get it? How do you plan to break it down into smaller sub-tasks?

2. Struggle Purposefully

Engage in deep, intentional intervals of thinking, writing, organizing, or doing whatever else you do. Be on target and use metrics to ensure you’re hitting the right benchmarks at the right time.

3. Release

That’s right—take a break! Step away, and do something different. When you come back to your work, you may need to repeat steps 1 and 2 or find you can jump directly back into flow.

4. Flow

In flow, we feel a deep sense of focus, impact, and engagement. We’re present and we’re charged. We’re so absorbed in our work, we may even lose track of the time.

5. Recover

The more quickly you can rejuvenate, the faster you will be able to get back into flow, so take time out to recover. Whatever it is you do to relax, carve out the time to do it.

While flow may sound like something that has more to do with yoga than leading a large corporation, in reality, flow is an integral part of successful leadership and thriving businesses. In my work as an executive coach, I’ve seen the impact flow can have on leaders’ work, work/life balances and their organizations. Adopting the habits, mindset, and hacks needed to build bandwidth and get into flow can make one’s work more meaningful, productive, engaging and impactful.

About the Author

Camille Preston is author of Create More Flow and Rewired, a partner at Blackhorn Ventures and CEO and founder of AIM Leadership where she helps leaders and organizations recognize patterns and systems that improve productivity, engagement, and impact. A sought-after speaker and celebrated thought leader on virtual effectiveness, Camille has shared her insights on how to work and live more effectively with clients and audiences around the world.


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