On Finding Flow as You Advance in Your Career

Ironic: the farther I get in my career, the less I get to do some of the things I love and get to that elusive “flow state.”

(Alright maybe that’s not really “ironic,” but it at least meets the Alanis Morrisette threshold for the word.)

Flow, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, is defined 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. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time

Have you found something like that?  Something that you can just get lost in and pour your heart into?

Don’t get me wrong — I am engaged and stimulated by what I’m working on — but there’s still a tug at the heartstrings for the familiar tasks I really enjoyed early on getting started with marketing.

The work that puts me in the zone

My foray into the world of marketing was as a content creator and strategist. There’s a well-weathered copy of Inbound Marketing signed by Dharmesh Shah sitting on the desk in my home office (the original one that sung the virtues of Digg and StumbleUpon), and it’s the first book that I read that made me think,

“Hey, I might want to do this marketing thing.”

With some practice, I turned into a blogging machine.  

I love writing — both the act of actually doing it, and strategizing around how written content can be deployed in a content marketing and lead nurturing program.

Writing is how I process new information, form opinions, and just generally organize thoughts.  It’s one of the few tasks I can lean into and suddenly wonder where an entire afternoon went.

But as I took on management roles, my ability to do “a few of my favorite things” changed.  And now today, as I’m trying to grow a business, I realize I need to spend a little less time on those tasks, and more time doing things like… sourcing accounting software. And drafting employment agreements.  And creating SOWs.

So how do you preserve that feeling of flow?

This isn’t a rhetorical question.  I don’t have the answer, and this blog isn’t going to unlock flawless tried-and-true secrets (sorry if that’s why you came here.)

But here’s what I’ve tried so far to strike a balance:

1. Call yourself out when you’re using familiar tasks to hide

We gravitate toward things we’re good at.  If you’re brutally honest with yourself, is focusing on the skills you built as an individual contributor sometimes an excuse for ignoring the scary or unfamiliar tasks looming on your ‘to do’ list?

2. Budget time to indulge in your favorite tasks, and stick to it

I give myself 5 hours a week to create content and track my time doing it in Harvest.  When I’m out of time, I’m out of time — and then it’s on to other priorities.

I fudge on this a little by reclaiming “dead time.”  At least half of the blogs on this site were written on my phone in the back of an Uber or commuting on the MARTA.

3. Teach others to do what you love

Be the exception to the “those who can’t do, teach” aphorism.  Share what you love with other people.

I get so much joy from teaching other people about content marketing and marketing automation.  There’s nothing I love more than seeing new team members or clients rocking it out, and getting to live vicariously just a little from their success.  (Hence the decision to go into marketing automation consulting.)

One word of warning when you assume the role of teacher: You may feel an overwhelming pull to micromanage like a total a-hole, because you know your subject matter really, really well.  Resist. Let your “students” find their own way and add their twist to things.  

4. Find new things that are your jam

When you push outside of your comfort zone, when you do the hard work of slogging through the grueling and the unfamiliar, you just might stumble across some new things you love. 

Sales I’m finding I surprisingly really like.  And public speaking — which used to reduce me to a puddle on the floor — is now something that totally triggers a flow state and it’s proved incredibly productive in helping me build a brand for my business.

What are your strategies for finding this balance?

Can you relate to this?  What types of tasks just put you in the zone and allow you to get lost in all the best possible ways?  How do you balance the beloved and the familiar tasks with finding that next challenge to stretch you?

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