Encouraging “Flow”

We all have a lot on our plates these days. Email, cell phones, texts, instant messages, Tweets, and Facebook, all allow constant and instant access to us.  This is supposed to increase production, and it does, at times. It also dramatically decreases production on items that require concentration, focus and time to solve issues.  It destroys that zone you get into where your mind is sharp and focused and you’re functioning at peak productivity. I call this “Flow.”

I was walking around the office the other day and joked to a co-worker about how focused everyone was.  Nobody looked up at me.  My colleague said, “It takes 14 minutes to get back into something once you’re interrupted.” I’ve blogged about the inefficiency of multi-tasking before and there’s a lot of information about interruptions and the time it takes to get back into what you were doing once you switch tasks. The point is, my colleague was encouraging “Flow” and it reminded me of one of my favorite techniques I discovered early in my career: quiet time.

I discovered the power of quiet time when I ran one of my first medical bill review units.  I was a 23 year old kid.  The unit felt like madness at first.  I was working ridiculous hours, and we were still always behind on bills. There were constant phone calls from medical providers, clients and our home office. This ease of access would knock our team off course. It felt like we would start one thing, and get pulled to another. Production and quality were not where it needed to be, even though my team was working really hard. Our clients and medical providers were not happy, so I was not happy with my team.  Things were not going as I had imagined they would.

That’s when I decided to try something new to take charge of the chaos. I set aside the morning when we did nothing but focus on our production work. If we had a question on a bill or had to research it, we set it aside. We let the provider calls go to voicemail. We put up a “Quiet Time” sign.  One person only could be interrupted with “urgent” issues from clients.  In the afternoon, we did more “switch tasking.”  We asked each other questions on bills, researched bills, handled provider calls and took care of client issues before the end of the day. 

Production started soaring. Turnaround was amazing. Quality began increasing.  Our office’s numbers were always significantly higher than every other office in our company. People in other offices saw our results and assumed I was a task master and hard to work for. In reality, we just had a great work environment and left on time most days.  Our stellar numbers had much more to do with our systems than anything else.  We were working smarter, not harder.

I did not know it at the time, but I was allowing the team and myself to get into the “Flow” each morning, where we are at our most efficient. Many companies are large enough and specialized enough that they have dedicated units that must jump on client and service-related calls right away, but the concept of getting into the “Flow” still applies to every job out there.

As a company and as individuals, we all need two essentials: focused work time and interactive training (learning or mentoring) time in order to produce our best results. Train yourself to ignore email and cell phone interruptions, and concentrate for extended bursts of time to get maximum production out of your day. Also, set aside time for questions, calls and tasks that require longer to accomplish. Train yourselves to work smarter to take advantage of the power of the “Flow.”