Finding the Flow Again and Again

How to feel more engaged at work

Posted Oct 18, 2020

Detaching from Work
Source: ArtemBeliaikin/Pexels

Do you find it difficult to detach yourself from work at the end of the day, especially if you have been working from home more this year? Are you able to really switch off or do you find your thoughts steering back towards your to-do list?

While it may feel counterintuitive to stop thinking about work when you know you will have a complex day ahead, it is important to detach yourself mentally from work during non-work time. When you can put your mind off work during your non-work time, research shows, your brain gets some time to reset and this can help preserve your engagement and performance at work the next day.

Another important factor that helps to increase work engagement throughout the day, as research by Sabine Sonnentag and Jana Kühnel has shown, is taking time to reattach to your work before starting your day. You can reattach by running the upcoming day through your head while you are having breakfast at home, during your commute or even during the first few minutes at work. Clarifying your goals for the day makes it easier to transition to your work tasks, as your task attention will already be increased before starting to work. You will find it easier to get absorbed back in your work, which can be tough, especially on Monday mornings.

Another great way to reattach is making a schedule for the day. When you are making your schedule, start with the tasks you are not looking forward to and plan more exciting tasks towards the end of the day, as Sonnentag and Kühnel also found that work engagement is naturally higher in the morning than in the afternoon.

However, our work engagement doesn’t always steadily decline throughout the day but can have its up and downs. If you are looking for ways to enhance your mental and physical energy so you can function better at work, you are engaging in what is called proactive vitality management. Emma Op den Kamp and her colleagues found that employees who engage in proactive vitality management are more engaged, perform better, and feel less exhausted at the end of the day. You can manage your vitality by taking “micro-breaks” such as taking a brisk walk, grabbing a cup of coffee, or engaging in a mindless task like clearing out your desk. If distractions (such as following the news in 2020, which is sure to kill your buzz) and interruptions ruin your engagement, try to find ways around them, such as switching off devices for predetermined periods. It can also be beneficial to remind yourself about what you find meaningful in your work, such as how it might benefit other people. We often tend to stop seeing the forest for the trees.

When you have an important piece of work coming up that requires you to stay engaged throughout the day, try using these four techniques and monitor what most helps you to get through the day feeling more inspired and engaged:

  1. Try not to think about work during your time off.
  2. Run the day through your head before starting work and/or make a daily plan.
  3. Anticipate distractions and interruptions and find ways to avoid them.
  4. Manage your energy proactively throughout the day with micro-breaks and personal reflections.

You’ve got this!

This post was co-authored with Cecilia Runneboom.