• The Strategic Perspective

How to Multiply your Employee’s Productivity by Getting them into “The Zone”

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment.” - Lao Tzo

The above passage, most often attributed to Lao Tzo, aptly describes the importance of living in the moment. It makes a great deal of sense. If your mind is occupied with poor decisions you have made or circumstances less than stellar, it becomes hard not to feel the emotional drain associated with such situations.

Likewise, if you find yourself sitting at your desk, manifesting a physiological reaction, where you feel your heart racing, your hands, face or body sweating and your breathing quickening and/or deepening, where is your head? What is on your mind? What are you anticipating? Something that may or may not happen in the future, most often in a negative sense.

Paradoxically, when you are working diligently, passionate and hyper-focused on the task at hand, time either slows down to a crawl, like a bullet from The Matrix - or more often, disappears before your very eyes. You are in the moment. You are at peace. You are being productive without even realizing how productive you are. Everything seems to happen easier. In a way, your sense of self has disappeared. You are... you have become… what you are doing.

You see the end result of this often when visiting an art gallery or museum. When a certain piece really resonates with you, you are often seeing a very real part of the artist in their work. They were able to imprint their energy into the piece. The energy they were feeling at that moment. Hence, the reason you may love one piece from a particular artist but hate a very similar piece from another.

When you are in that moment, the concept of time is irrelevant. The rest of the world, what happened before or what comes later, becomes irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what is happening immediately before you. That Zen like state of being... “peace”… “flow”… “the zone” is where you are the happiest and where you are the most productive.

So how do you get there? How do you get your employees there? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied this for over 30 years. In summary and oversimplified, he states that to get into “the zone”, you need to strike the perfect balance between skill level and challenge.

While true, if I were to leave it at that, all you would need to do is perfectly match every employee, to every task or project, based on skill level and challenge. While that is smart leadership when practical, it is often an insurmountable challenge. Plus, there is more to it than that.

I say this because I have been involved in creative endeavors and action sports my entire life. I am still an avid skier. However, I can ski the same run two times in a row, with the same snow conditions and have an entirely different experience, if on one of those runs, I get into “the zone” and the other, I do not.

So what really causes you to get into “the zone”, aside from skill level and challenge. My skill level certainly didn’t change, the pitch of the mountain and snow conditions were the same. What changed? My level of consciousness. Mindfulness. Where my head was at, is what changed. I was distracted by something else when I was not in “the zone”.

Allowing yourself to be in the moment. Creating a culture and atmosphere where your employees can be in the moment, is of utmost importance. You likely now understand why I started this post with the above quote.

How you set up your office and arrange your employees seating arrangements have an awful lot to do with how productive they are. Think about seating people near one another with similar working styles, not job assignments or departments. Rearrange them if necessary, though not in a punitive way.

An open concept may be invigorating for some but detrimental to others. Encourage them to silence non-essential email communication. Constant pop-ups and pinging from outlook or messaging apps can even restrict the most mindful from getting into and staying in “the zone”.

Be mindful when scheduling group meetings. Are they being held out of obligation or habit? Is it really necessary for all participants to be present... for all parts of a meeting? If not, encourage a culture where they can be scheduled into a meeting when needed and leave when no longer necessary.

Most people automatically think the longer they show their face in a meeting, the more appreciated they are. This is due to culture and conditioning because in some companies, this holds true. In reality, most of the time, the longer you are in a group meeting, the less productive you are and the harder it is to get back into “the zone”.

Depending upon the type of work you do, you can create triggers that encourage your employees to get into “the zone”. When I was working at the fire station and a call would come in for a fire, hearing the tones go off, stepping into my turnout gear and strapping on the air pack that was mounted to the back of the seat on the fire engine would always take me there. This is an example where the environment doesn’t necessarily have to be peaceful… it should be appropriate. Get creative and think about what you want accomplished.

Foster a culture of encouragement where everyone feels valued for the work they do. You are all working towards the same goal, or at least you should be. You can’t control what happens in your employee’s home life but you can be understanding towards it. You can control how you react to situations. You can control how fair you are and how consistent you are. All of these things contribute to providing the optimum environment for increasing productivity.

Here is a little more food for thought. Do you foster a culture that values productivity or time? Results or hours worked? If your employees notice a trend, where the people who stay the latest and come in the earliest are favored, or that perception is there, without regard to results produced, you may want to rethink your priorities.

Remember, you are far more productive when working in “the zone”. Distraction is the largest barrier to being in the moment, to getting in “the zone”. Life happens and a lot of the time, it happens during normal business hours. Does it really matter how much time they put in if they are producing at a high level? Perhaps even more productive than if they worked longer hours?

A lot of companies are coming around to this way of thinking… flexibility. They are also seeing astounding results to their bottom line, employee job satisfaction, loyalty and longevity.