There's No Business Like FLOW Business

Time becomes irrelevant, the water in the teakettle boils away, you forget where you are, so focused are you on the work you're doing. Sound familiar? If not, try taking a look at how some companies are using Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ideas to improve the productivity and satisfaction of their employees.

Track Happiness Obsessively

At the Gallup Organization, CEO Jim Clifton monitors flow by sending an email to more than 1,000 employees every single day, asking them to rank their positive energy level on a scale of one to five. "When someone hits a five, I assume they are in flow," Clifton says. He can sort the results geographically by office to catch patches of entropy quickly.

Focus on the Personal

Csikszentmihalyi's research has shown that to achieve flow, you need consistent feedback. The best way to do that, simply put, is to care about your coworkers. The best way to measure flow, says Gallup's Clifton, is to ask employees if they have a manager who loves them.

Set Clear Expectations

One of Csikszentmihalyi's preconditions for flow is to set goals that employees can actually achieve. To do that, Stockholm-based Green Cargo has each manager work with each employee to create performance contracts. Then the two schedule lengthy, one-on-one meetings once a month to go over those goals in great detail. "I know what management is expecting from me, and I have the support of management," says Carsten Julin, director of corporate purchasing and real estate.

Don't Interrupt

Particularly with creative types, such as programmers or writers, there's nothing worse than a sudden disruption. It's best to stay away when they are deep into a project, says Joe Kraus, a flow devotee who cofounded Excite and now runs the startup JotSpot. "I never IM [instant message] a programmer. They are at their best when they can focus."

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