Smart Thinking

Flow and the Eisenhower Matrix

Improve your time management with the Eisenhower Matrix and ‘get into and stay in the zone’ with the Flow Model.

Flow (as depicted simplistically in Figure 1)

is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept of Flow has been widely researched in diverse contexts.

The Flow Model

Figure 1 – The Flow Model

Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness

Dealing with complex demands (particularly in unfamiliar domains or with unfamiliar technologies) can test personal boundaries and push even the most stoic into Burnout (illustrated by my red lozenges). Lack of challenge on the other hand leads to “Boreout” (yellow lozenges).

The smart manager needs to ensure Flow is well regulated in teams. Of course, team member abilities are different and their willingness to push their own capabilities is variable (due to personality type, external pressures/demands etc.).

Staff in a prolonged state of ‘Boreout’ disengage, leading to morale and retention issues.

Controlled Burnout can be productive, uncontrolled Burnout is very destructive. Boreout (perhaps with the exception of a short decompression between high octane projects) tempts the maxim ‘the devil makes work for idle hands.’

Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done – Today!

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Flow Model is also a useful thinking tool for self-regulation. People can hit Burnout by focusing on the wrong things.

As Eisenhower said:

The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.

Keep both the Flow Model and the Eisenhower Matrix in mind.

Figure 2 illustrates this well-worn prioritisation model. The “Urgent but not important” category is your delegation path and rescue vehicle for direct / indirect reports that are in Boreout.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Figure 2 – The Eisenhower Matrix – deciding what is urgent and what is important

Further Reading on Time Management Strategies

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.