We’ve all been in that situation either as an employer leading a team, or as an employee where we have felt in over our head! You might be familiar with the tell tail signs, sweaty palms, increased heart rate, avoidance of work, anxiety when at work, always thinking/ talking about work and worrying in general.

On the flip side of the coin, maybe you’ve experienced that feeling of apathy and boredom at work. You feel uninspired and enjoyment is at an all-time low. Obviously there are things that need to be done… but surely everything doesn’t have to feel like a drudge?

How can you find the middle ground in your work life where you come alive? Let’s do this by taking a quick look at your situation and start brainstorming practical steps.  Perhaps finding that sweet spot is not as elusive as you think!

The Flow Theory

It starts with understanding the flow theory. The ‘flow state’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihályi, proposed this theory in 1975. This explains the “optimal experience” individuals get from a level of high gratification through an experience. It’s also a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In short, it’s when you are most enjoying your work!

To illustrate what I mean, have a look at this diagram I drew based on Csikszentmihályi’s flow model.

Our Challenge and Skill levels vary depending on what we are working on from low to high. You might be working on something you’ve done quite a few times, so your skill level for the job will probably be fairly average; about in the middle of the skill bar. The trouble is that it no longer presents any challenge. So if we imagine a line between a medium skill level and a low challenge level that places us smack bang on the boredom category of the graph. Perhaps if you’ve recently taken on a franchise, you suddenly find yourself needing to understand things about business and managing staff that you’ve never had to think of before. Your skill level is low but the challenge is high so that places you in the worry and anxiety category.

What we are aiming for is for ‘Flow’, which is found on the diagram at any point following the dashed line where your skill matches the challenge. So how do we achieve this? I like to keep it simple and do a little bit of self-reflection by asking myself a few questions:

  1. Where am I currently sitting in the flow theory graph? (i.e. am I bored? Worried?)
  2. What are my options depending on my situation for achieving a place where my skill matches the challenges? (i.e. do I have the option of taking training to increase my skill level? Can I let go of or take on some new projects?)
  3. What are the practical steps I am going to take to achieve Flow and a better work enjoyment? (i.e. mentoring with someone who has skills I need, sharing some repetitive work tasks with colleagues)

If you follow these few steps and really think about your options and carry them out, you will find yourself starting to feel energised, with a new focus, and you might actually find yourself enjoying work!

– Written by Ashley Carr, Business Accounts Manager