Have you ever lost yourself in a project, so much so that you completely lost track of time? Being consumed by a task like that, while it can be rare for most people, is a state of being called Flow. And flow leads to happiness at work.
From endless hours spent completing assignments at the office to the daily stresses of our lives waiting for us back home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed out when mental exhaustion starts to throw your daily existence off balance. You may feel like your to-do list is never ending and all you wish is to regain control and balance over your life and work sphere.
The first step to changing it is to realise that you’re not your thoughts. Your mood can change many times within a day but with practice, you can be at peace, no matter what happens in your surroundings. Within each of us lies the power to separate ourselves from the confusion of everyday life by harnessing a higher level of consciousness and peace known as Zen.
Before we dive into steps, you first need to understand what is Zen and Flow at work and how to spot it.
What is the concept of Zen?
The word “Zen” is tossed around so carelessly in the commercial world; the world of design and in pop culture, that it has become too vague to have much meaning. Not getting into its spiritual roots into too much detail, real Zen is the practice of coming back to the actual right-now-in-this-moment self, coming back to the naturalness, the intimacy and simplicity of our true nature. Zen practice is not about getting away from our life as it is; it is about getting into our life as it is, with all of its vividness, beauty, hardship, joy and sorrow. Zen is a path of awakening: awakening to who we really are, and awakening the aspiration to serve others and take responsibility for all of life.
How to practice Zen? The basic idea is to stop trying to get an intellectual lock on something that is vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. Learn to breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath. Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation. Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale with conscious awareness.
What is Flow?
Flow is a concept proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and these days it became so popular, you’re likely to read about it on blogs and in all kinds of magazines.
When you’re in the state of Flow, you:
- are completely focused on the task at hand and lose track of time;
- forget about yourself, about others, about the world around you;
- feel happy, calm and in control;
- feel creative and productive.
Put simply, it’s a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully and positively “lost” in a task, forgetting about the outside world.
10 Steps to Achieving Flow – Zen and Happiness At Work
Whether you’re looking to merely slow down and relax, or achieve a greater sense of consciousness throughout the day, here’s a list of 10 steps ways you can use for your inner happiness and tranquility at work. Or anytime, anywhere for that matter.
1. Choose work you love.
Mark Twain once said “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”.
If you dislike your work and tasks it involves doing, you’ll have a hard time losing yourself in it, let alone completing them. If your job is made up of stuff you hate, you might want to consider finding another job. Or consider seeking projects you love to do within your current job. By staying at job you don’t enjoy, you not only hurt your metal being but make your coworker and employer less successful. When we enjoy our work, it’s more pleasurable to work with us. And vice versa. It’s as simple as that. At any rate, be sure that whatever task you choose is something you can be passionate about.
2. Focus on one task at the time.
We at Japana don’t believe in multitasking. Most of us tried it and failed miserably. We know that ability to single-task as opposed to multitask is one of the keys to true productivity. Not the kind of productivity where you knock off 10 items from your to-do list (although crossing that list can be satisfying), where you’re switching between tasks all day long and keep busy all the time. You join the circle of your colleagues and friends saying “I’m too busy to do xyz” but you aren’t really sure if you’ve spent your time the most effectively.
The true productivity is the kind where you have clear priorities and actually achieve your goals, where you accomplish important and long-lasting things. It means getting key projects done rather than answering a bunch of emails (who said you need to answer immediately?), making a lot of phone calls, attending a bunch of meetings, and shuffling paperwork all day long. It means closing key deals. It means quality instead of quantity.
And once you’ve learned to focus on those kinds of important projects and tasks, Flow is how you get them done. You lose yourself in those important and challenging tasks, and instead of being constantly interrupted by minor things (calls, emails, IMs, chit chats with coworkers, etc.), you are able to focus on the tasks long enough to actually complete them. And by losing yourself in them, you enjoy yourself more. You reduce stress while increasing quality output. You get important stuff done instead of just getting things done. You achieve things rather than just keeping busy.
“You must let life flow naturally, for life’s secret is patience; you must stop pushing for change and allow things to unfold.”
3. Reconnect with the Nature.
In our current technologically driven age of endless screens, devices and increasingly advanced machinery, it’s sometimes easy to feel overwhelmed throughout the day. But while the world may seem bustling, and technology is now an essential part of our everyday lives, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a little escape in nature. Even in busy places like London you can escape to a park during your break and just… breathe.
Some people view it as a wasted time (“I could be working instead of being here”) but treat it as an investment in your creative state. When you’re relaxed, you’re more productive and finish your tasks faster and better. Remind yourself of the beauty of the natural world. Nature is majestic and relaxing, and a quick look at the splendour of the environment shows you that you can achieve the same level of tranquility too. There’s no better way to find a sense of inner peace and mindfulness than by immersing yourself in natural surroundings.
4. Make sure it’s challenging, but not too hard.
If a task is too easy, you will be able to complete it without much thought or effort. A task should be challenging enough to require your full concentration. However, if it is too hard, you will find it difficult to get ‘hooked’ on it and eventually you will spend most of your concentration just trying to figure out where should you start. As a result, you’ll end up discouraged. It may take some trial and error to find tasks of the appropriate level of difficulty. Start with something easier and bring in more challenges as you progress.
5. Find your quiet, peak time.
Finding your flow may just be a matter of slowing down throughout the day. If you find yourself regularly on the go, hurriedly rushing from one place to the next, peace may seem like just a dream, not a reality. First, you’ll want to find a time that’s quiet, or you’ll never be able to focus. For some people that’s mornings before their coworkers arrive, before the hustle of everyday life builds to a dull roar. When everybody is just getting their coffee and settling down. Some might try the lunch hour, when people are usually out of the office. Evenings work well too for many people but it’s often at the trade off time with your their family at home. If you’re lucky, your company’s office has a a quiet spot to work in. Whatever time you choose, it should also be a peak energy time for you. Some people get tired after lunch — that’s not a good time to go for Flow. Find a time when you have lots of energy and can concentrate.
6. Clear away distractions.
Aside from finding a quiet time and place to work, you’ll want to clear away all other distractions. That means turning off distracting music (unless you find music that helps you focus), turning off phones, email and IM notifications, Twitter and Growl, and anything else that might pop up or make noise to interrupt your thoughts. I also find it helpful to clear my desk, even if that means sweeping miscellaneous papers into a folder to be sorted through later. Of course, these days there isn’t anything on my desk, but I didn’t always work like this. A clear desk helps immensely.
7. Drink a glass of green tea.
The fact that what our diet and physical exercises affect our wellbeing and productivity has been known for a long time. You may even recall a very famous Latin phrase Mens sana in corpore sano, usually translated as “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. There is a whole lot scientific literature on healthy dieting on Internet so feel free to dig in. We’ll just point to … the miracles of green tea. The next time you find yourself tempted to swig back a bottle of soda, consider swapping your sugary beverage for a refreshing glass of green tea instead. Drinking a hot cup of tea is an act full of relaxation, but that’s not all. The components in your warm drink may just hold the key to calming you down when you most need it as well. The leaves in green teas possess high levels of L-Theanine, a chemical associated with lower levels of anger and stress. Whenever you need to find your zen, pour a freshly brewed pot of green tea into your favourite coffee mug or cup. Sit back, relax, and take a soothing sip of this feel good drink as a sense of peace ensues.
8. Enjoy yourself.
Losing yourself in Flow is an amazing thing, in our experience. It feels great to be able to really pour yourself into something worthwhile, to make great progress on a project or important task, to do something you’re passionate about. To feel happiness at work. Take the time to appreciate this feeling.
9. Keep practicing.
Again, this takes practice. Each step will take some practice, from finding a quiet, peak time for yourself, to clearing distractions, to choosing the right task. And especially keeping your focus on a task for a long time. But each time you fail, try to learn from it. Each time you succeed, you should also learn from it — what did you do right? And the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
10. Reap the rewards.
Aside from the pleasure of getting into Flow, you’ll also be happier with your work overall. You’ll get important stuff done. You’ll complete stuff more often, rather than starting and stopping frequently. All of this is hugely satisfying and rewarding. Take the time to appreciate this, and to continue to practice it every day.
Rushing around at work is one of the top causes of stress and can make you feel less productive throughout the day. Remember to set aside at least half an hour each day to pause and reflect. Consider jotting down your thoughts in a journal to put your worries onto paper. By setting aside this time to stop and contemplate, you’ll find that achieving a sense of ease throughout the day is not only obtainable but simple. Remember that the key to achieving your perfect zen can be as simple as slowing down and taking a moment to reflect on your life throughout the day. While stressful moments can be an everyday part of existence, that doesn’t mean they have to be an inevitable component of your life too.