One way to get more flow at work

Flow at work
Will batching your work help you get more flow?

Flow is that state defined and researched by Mihalyi Csizentmihalyi as the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity (thank you Wikipedia). Flow is when you don’t notice time going by and you are very self-unaware, so completely are you absorbed in the task at hand. Athletes may refer to this as being in the zone, artists find it to be a time of peak creativity and employees – well they probably wish they could experience this more often at work.

Here is an account of one person’s attempt to be more productive at work by “batching” – chunking the day up into dedicated activities of 30  minutes each, without allowing for distractions. If it’s time to eat, that’s what you do – and you give yourself 30 minutes. If it’s time to check email, that’s what you do for 30 minutes. If it’s time to do some creative writing, that’s what you do – for any multiple of 30 minutes as you prefer. But the rules can feel strict: no checking email during your research time, for example.

What did this researcher learn?

…the careful pre-planning required to satisfy my batching rules increased the efficiency of my small task completion. Even though I dedicated 6 hours in one 10 hour work day to uninterrupted focus, another 1.5 hours to exercise and eating, and another 1 hour to a doctors appointment, I still managed to accomplish an impressive collection of logistical tasks both urgent and non-urgent.

However, beyond the fact that (n=1) batching works, there was a phrase that particularly caught my eye:

…the percentage of time spent in a flow state was as large as I’ve experienced in recent memory. I ended up spending 2.5 hours focused on my writing project and 3.5 hours focused on my research paper. That’s six hours, in one day, of focused work with zero interruptions; not even one quick glance at email.

Can we experience more flow at work by batching? And if so, will that improve engagement, happiness, productivity or any other positive metrics as a by-product? I recognize, as an astute Facebook friend recently posted, that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but perhaps this solo foray into the world of flow and batching would be worthy of further study?


Have you tried batching? Does this person’s account encourage you to try?


Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

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