Most people have a completely wrong idea of what a workday should look like.
When we think in terms of ideal, we generally think of our ideal vacations, our ideal homes, or our ideal lives. When someone asks you about your ideal day, you’ll probably start rattling on about a day when you’re not working.
But according to famous psychologist and Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people are happiest when they are working in a "state of flow." Flow is when you're so engaged with work that you lose track of time. Flow cannot be created unless you are doing something that leverages what you’re naturally good at and gives you purpose.
So how do you get to that state? Start by structuring your ideal workday. Many entrepreneurs start businesses because they want to have more freedom and escape the 9-to-5 of big companies. But even in the absence of a cubicle or a boss telling us when to work, we still have preconditioned ideas of what working means. We have been conditioned to believe that work is not work unless there is an element of self-sacrifice. That is mostly because that is what everyone else is doing--sacrificing joy for the sake of work.
Instead, ask yourself regularly: What are the conditions and the environment that is the stimulus for your best thinking? What would you do on your ideal workday? How would you structure it? What would the benefits be? Present this to your team as a test. Track the results. How much more productive are you? How much work do you get done, and how motivated do you feel? You may find that you get twice as much work done in the mornings from 6 a.m. to noon as you do from noon to 6 p.m. You could schedule meetings in the afternoon and keep the mornings for focused thinking work. You could also discover that you work better in a café for focused work and then want to be in an office for meetings. You can see where I’m going.
Want to get there? Here are a few simple exercises that should help:
1. Take notes throughout your day for a week--identifying when are you the most focused, most inspired, and most thoughtful. Look at where you are, what time of the day it is, and what’s prompting it.
2. Use those notes, along with what you think will make you more focused, and create a hypothetical ideal day. Make it realistic. Saying you need to work on a beach when you are in a landlocked state doesn’t make sense. You need to create something doable.
3. Plan to execute your ideal day one day a week for a month.
4. Set up a way to track the results. Monitor your focus, fun, and productivity. Track a normal day once a week as well. At the end of a month, compare those weekly notes.
5. Create a presentation to your CEO and your co-workers on your results. If you are a small startup, you may be able to take the lead on something that has not been addressed, which could be a quick win for increased results and performance.
Change is hard for everyone, and our habits prevent us from being as innovative as we can be. In a world where performance and results are everything, isn’t it worth rethinking and being innovative about how you can increase your performance? I think so--plus, how fun would it be to have your ideal day double the results you are getting now? Pretty fun.