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Article 4 min read

Happier agents go with the flow

By Katharine Crane

Last updated February 8, 2018

We all know how great it feels to be in the zone. When we’re in so-called “flow state,” a concept popularised by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it’s like we’re invincible: Growling belly, exhaustion, and our fears are no match for us. We’re so focused, time, our problems, and everything else fades away—we dwell in a sense of strength, alertness, and superhero-level confidence. Afterward? We’re typically proud of our work. The added reward is having felt exquisitely in-tune with ourselves.

So why is it that so much – timecard approvals, performance reviews, surveys, report building, open tickets – always seems to get in the way? Well, flow is fickle. You can’t set it like an alarm. It is mercilessly indifferent to our sensible plans and rational mind. To flow, we need to ensure we’re straddling the edge of our abilities, taking on challenging projects, and mentally preparing ourselves to meet them.

However, if we can create the right conditions to lure it in and dive in when it arrives, it will take us further than we imagine we can go. As agents or as admins, we can benefit from flow state—and so can our customers. Here are things to consider to find your way into “the zone.”

Pick up the pace

Flow requires that we leave comfort behind for the thrill of engaging in a higher purpose. If your current responsibilities are too predictable, consider adding in an exacting project that will demand a greater investment of your interest and talents. If code interests you, try building a new app or setting up an integration in your Zendesk account. Intrigued by business strategy? Plunge into some ticket data and see if you can discover areas for improvement.

“The people we most admire chase flow states.”
– Faith Hanna

Actively working on learning and developing new skills will also empower you to take on more engrossing projects. As you feel yourself becoming sharper writing javascript, building SQL queries, or designing content you will also gain the confidence and know-how to show others how you can meaningfully contribute.

The idea here is that if we have enough of the right kind of busy going on, we will need to operate on a higher level and this can tip us into a flow state. Ever heard that saying, “The more you do, the more you actually get done?” It’s true. Try it.

Then slow down…

Juggling too much can result in more flaw than flow. While complexity can tie our senses together so we wonder where hours, appetite, and self-awareness went, it can also lead to second-guessing ourselves, and that can result in inaction. If you sense you have lost your groove, try taking a break to clear your mind. Gallup has found that employees who are engaged and have high well-being are 27% more likely to report excellent performance in their job and 45% more likely to report high levels of adaptability in the presence of change.

…Or switch gears

Feeling sluggish can be a wonderful signal that it is time to switch gears and tunnel into a different project. Not feeling those emails right now? Drop into that side-project you pitched to your boss last week or think about the last thing that drove you crazy about your company—and how you might change it. Help Center content and onboarding materials may need a refresh, or your team may need a better way to track customer feedback and properly deliver it to the Product team. Or maybe your company needs a volunteering program. These are opportunities to improve agent and customer experiences while also showing your worth. When your workload requires a high level of expertise while also remaining feasible and engaging, hello flow state.

We may resist entering, though. After all, being in a “state” means you are far from neatly grounded. There is an obligatory surrender to the unknown that accompanies flow, an acknowledgment that we are about to delve into a challenge that will require fading away from other pressing items. When you start feeling it again, give in.

The people we admire and wish to emulate most – artists, athletes, teachers, mentors, heroes – are those who actively summon up the courage to chase flow states. The demands of managing a team, juggling customers, and flipping across channels can take us away from sinking into this trance-like focus, but it is worth remembering to find our way back into it. Giving yourself space to do so will allow you to deliver your finest and more rewarding work.

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