I know all about the importance of taking breaks and of not working non-stop for eight or more hours. I understand the benefit to eating lunch away from my desk and of doing office walk-arounds. Distractions? They’re not all bad.
But you know what’s really great? When I get that laser-sharp focus and am so immersed in the work I’m doing that when I look up and assess my environment, I literally can’t believe how many hours have passed. It’s the days when I look at the clock on my computer screen and think (and sometimes say aloud), “Huh, how is it 4:30 already?”
Having the day fly by is a good thing—assuming you accomplished something and feel productive at the end of it—but I hadn’t realized that there’s more to it than that. There’s actually a name for this phenomenon: flow. A recent New York Times piece titled “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love” identifies losing track of the passage of time as “flow.” The author, Robert H. Frank, says that “Happiness literature has identified [it as] one of the most deeply satisfying human psychological states.”
It’s so wonderful—think about it, you’re enjoying your work so much that you’re not counting down the minutes until you can leave—that Frank rightly asserts, “If you can land a job that enables you to experience substantial periods of flow, you will be among the most fortunate people on the planet.” That’s not all, though. Over time, due to your attention in whatever area’s making your day flow so smoothly, you’ll “develop deep expertise.”
So, the by-product of immersing yourself in your work and losing track of time is that you’ll become better at your job? Pretty priceless, right? It’s good news for people who can relate and not so good for people who think of their jobs as a 40-plus hour a week paycheck, nothing more than an obligation. As unrealistic as it is to instruct people to quit if they’re unhappy and find their dream job, there’s obviously plenty to be said about the advantage of deriving workplace satisfaction. The blissful passage of time is just one of them.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any of us—even those who regularly tweet #Ilovemyjob—feel in the zone all the time. You’re never going to be productive 100% all day, every day. Or motivated. Or even eager to start work each morning. In fact, there may be parts of your job that you truly detest. Some days will be better than others.
But, if you have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be in that covetable workplace zone, if every one of your days is a long countdown of the hours until you’re out of there, it might be time to ask yourself how much longer you’re willing to live like that. Enjoying the weekend, taking vacations, and unplugging are all important—I’m not advocating for all work, all the time just because you enjoy it—but so is not resigning yourself to misery for the better part of your Monday through Friday.