How to create more flow in your work?

When I find my flow, I notice that time seems to go faster, or sometimes it even goes slower. I’m less aware of myself and my surroundings, and I am fully focused. Paradoxically, this is the worst moment to stop and think about whether you’re happy or not. However, for me personally, when I look back on these moments, they are always the happiest moments in my working life. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi creating flow in your life is one of the secrets to happiness. Lets take a closer look at flow and find out what it is (and what it isn’t). 

Two surfers

Two surfers (by Marcos André)

 Flow is characterized by the following experi­ences:

  • Your sense of time changes (time seems to go faster or slower).
  • You forget yourself.
  •  You forget your surroundings.
  •  You have no worries.
  •  You are fully focused.
  •  You feel inspired.
  • You feel like you are surpassing yourself.
  • Often, flow also results in exceptional achievements.

What do we mean with flow?

Flow is not like daydreaming. It therefore does not mean that you are losing yourself in random thoughts, such as when you have been driving for a while and you realize that you have covered a great distance without even noticing it. When you are daydreaming, you are not pushing yourself. You are simply on automatic pilot because what you are doing is entirely routine. When you find your flow, you immerse yourself in an activity that consumes your at­tention in its entirety. You need all of your skills and qualities to ensure that everything keeps running smoothly, and you have no time to stop and think about how you feel. It is a state of intense enthusiasm that completely takes over your being.

For flow you need balance

To generate flow, you need to be challenged just enough, and it is a delicate balance. If the challenge is too great, then you can risk overstretching yourself. At first, you get excited, but once your energy is too low to banish the insecurity, then apprehension and anxiety take over. In the long run, this reduces your level of happiness and decreases productivity, and can even result in excessive stress and burn-out. If you are challenged too little, then after a while, the feeling of safety and secu­rity turns into boredom and apathy. Paradoxically, it can also result in stress. In the long-term, ‘understretching’ yourself can result in a phenomenon known as bore-out: reduced productivity and danger of staff outflow due to extreme boredom.

What can you do to get more flow?

The trick is to get yourself into a position where you are challenged just enough. You are the only one person who can tell when you are in full flow or if your level of challenge is too high or too low. You are the captain of your flow. Flow also results in optimal de­velopment and boosts happiness at work, so it is a good indicator of how happy you are in your work. Do you want to know more about flow? Take a look at this interesting Ted talk by Csiksentmihalyi on Flow. You can also take a look at chapter 3 of our book. Both will provide you with the inspiration and practical assignments to improve the amount of flow you can experience in your work. Enjoy!

Changing perspective on stress from reorganizations


image by Bottled Void on flickr

In 1999 I started giving weekly leadership training to employees and managers from different organizations. If, in a group of 12 participants, one or two participants were working for a company in reorganization it would have been quite remarkable. Nowadays it is the other way around.

Organizations not in reorganization are the exception. Our company now confirms this rule. For the first time since the founding of Van Harte & Lingsma  we have to say farewell to a number of highly respected colleagues.

Healthy reorganization

What is a healthy way of dealing with such a reorganization? I notice that it often produces extra levels of stress. The first question arising is whether you are allowed to stay. Soon after you find out you’ve survived another question arises, “How do we proceed?” Fewer people are left, but often with the same amount or even more work. You have to do more with fewer people. It is a familiar theme, perhaps you recognize it in your own organization?

Coping with increased stress

How do you deal with such the new situation after reorganization? Are you stressed because of the extra work and increased uncertainty? It is common sense that too much stress is unhealthy but how much can we take? The psychologist Kelly McGonical has done some work on the subject. Maybe we’re you are ready for another perspective on stress?

Research by McGonical shows: stress is not unhealthy in itself. Even when stress gets very intense, you are able to minimize its negative impact. What is important is how we deal with stress. According to her three things can help with to cope better and more healthily with stress.

Create meaning. During reorganizations actions are taken that often seem nonsensical and strengthen a sense of futility. By focusing too much on what you cannot influence, your attention only enhances these feelings of futility. Try to create meaning (once more) in your work, wherever possible. Why did you start to do this work in the first place? What were your motivations? See if you can strengthen a sense of meaning in your work.

Increase your sense of influence. The feeling of powerlessness is, according to McGonical, the sickening part of stress. Her research shows that vasoconstriction occurs only with people who feel stress is bad for them. People who do not have such an idea, aren’t bothered by the physical effects. Try to find whatever helps you to have a sense of influence on your own stress. For one person, this means doing yoga, another might be a strong believer in breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness or exercising regularly in the gym.

So try to let go of the idea that stress is inherently bad for you. It appears to be, that this specific belief is the main cause for harmful effects.

 Concern for others

It might sound strange, because you already have enough on your plate during a reorganization. However, caring for others in stressful situations proves, specifically for the ones that do care, to have a strong protective effect. Research shows that in major stressful situations – such as financial problems or a family crisis – the risk of dying goes up by 30 percent. The striking thing about McGonical’s research, is that the negative effect of stress is completely absent for people who actively provide care to others.


One of the best ways to be healthier in dealing with stress from reorganizations is to help others. In that way, you’re doing something useful. You only need to shift your beliefs for a moment and forget that stress is bad for you. Perhaps this story helped? Have a look at the inspiring TED story shared by Kelly McGonical herself. And enjoy it!

How did this story help you? Or do you have other ideas on how to deal with stress during reorganizations? Feel free to share your ideas below.

This article was originally published in Dutch on on 20 sep 2013