You may not believe it’s possible to be satisfied with your day even before breakfast, but it is. Two days in a row, I experienced a moment when I realized I was deeply enjoying my work and my life. On both occasions, I glanced down at my watch and saw that it wasn’t even 8am yet. I was enjoying a perfect day.
The previous two days had been spent in what for me was a sadly unfulfilling state. I’d been reacting to others’ concerns and responsibilities, responding to emails throughout the day, and chasing follow-up items that popped into my head about things that I shouldn’t have to be following up on. In short, I was spending my time and energy on other people’s agendas and responsibilities.
What was the difference between the two unfulfilling days when I worked 12 hours but didn’t feel I had accomplished much, versus the two deeply fulfilling days when I’d already achieved a perfect day by 8am? The difference was flow, a psychology term that Wikipedia defines as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”
How I Get in the Flow before Breakfast
Here are the things I did (and try to regularly do) in my early morning to pave the way for personal satisfaction:
- Read something inspirational. Usually this is a biography or non-fiction book related to leadership or creating business results. I get a kick out of learning how leaders and businesses can make a positive difference in the world. Other people’s ideas and successes really energize me.
- Read the Bible or other spiritual writings. Bible passages can be deeply inspiring (and sometimes boring) to me. Most days I spend 5-20 minutes reading, and I believe it helps keep me aware of timeless principles and truths. (I recognize this may not be your thing; regardless, I’m happy to hang out with you.)
- Enjoy or reflect on the moment. This usually involves making connections with what I’ve read and how it connects with other things I’ve learned or current challenges I face. It’s one of those moments that sort of sneaks up on you. While it feels like play, it’s actually productive work. Studies have shown that innovations and great ideas often occur in the midst of learning, thinking, or playing.
- Capture ideas and thoughts. I keep a notebook or device handy for brainstorming, journaling, making lists, or creative writing — whatever I’m in the mood for. Most things I write end up getting scratched out or never used, but jotting them down is part of my process. Depending on my mood and the type of ideas, I may capture ideas on paper; or on my iPad using Evernote, Notability, Workflowy; or I dictate into iTalk using my iPhone. Sometimes the inspiration helps me find solutions to a problem and get satisfying results right then and there. Often, I actually do this capturing step first (rather than the reading steps noted above) to have the opportunity to create something that’s currently inside me, as an alternative to reacting to something I’ve read.
- Share something. Sometimes this is as simple as discussing ideas while having breakfast with my wife and kids. Sometimes I share something on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes I develop my thoughts into a full blog post or podcast episode.
You’ll notice that this list does not include checking email or social media, which tend to draw me into reactive mode. It doesn’t even include checking my calendar or to-do list; I try to check those at the end of the previous day, and to carve out this creative time, I keep my calendar clear of meetings before 9am when possible.
I’ve found that starting with these actions helps me feel energized, creative, and cheerful for the rest of the day. This regular experience of flow is a key part of being my own fully engaged employee. And it sets me up to deliver results that matter in the long term, rather than just spending every day on things that seem urgent.
Getting You and Your Team in the Flow
Flow is a personal experience. Depending on how you’re wired, my formula for morning flow may not fit you. Consider what actions you find personally fulfilling and energizing, and think about whether you can incorporate them into your day early — before you need to react to other priorities. At first this may seem like a selfish indulgence, but you will soon discover a boost in energy, clarity, innovation, and performance that makes it well worth it.
And what works for me and you may not work for every member of your team. Coach your team to discover what work most energizes them; encourage them to carve out time for that work. It may feel risky, but companies like Google and 3M have found that helping people make time for work they find personally energizing and meaningful pays off not only in greater innovation and performance, but also in greater employee engagement.
A great book for leaders on the why and how of flow is Daniel Pink’s bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Do you have a set of practices that sets the tone for enjoying your perfect day?