Woman on beach at sunrise doing yoga (dancer pose)

If you’re wondering more about how to be a self-starter, check out Drive by Daniel Pink. In this book, he shares some good news: you can learn intrinsic motivation. It’s not necessarily something you’re born with. (Actually, Pink says we’re all born with it, but it becomes trained out of us by outdated school and work reward systems.)

The concept that most intrigues me in this book is “flow.” If you’ve ever read What Color is Your Parachute? you might recognize it. Flow is that feeling we get when we’re working on something engaging, and really making progress. When you are so engaged or focused you lose track of time.

Solving complex problems does it for some–engineers, maybe. Writing for others. But you don’t have to be creating something monumental to find your flow. Pink asserts that flow is something we need every day to feel fulfilled.

Ever have a hectic day at the office putting out fires, and attending to the problems of others? Unless triage is your element, you probably didn’t find your flow that day. And you might have gone home feeling discouraged, like you didn’t accomplish anything that day. (If you’re a manager, these days happen more often because it becomes your job to help others find their flow, usually at the cost of your own.)

So how do you find your flow? If you want more detail, read Drive, but here’s a simple approach. When you’ve been working on something for a while and feeling in the zone, jot it down. You might notice over a few days that you are most productive at a certain time, or while doing a certain type of task. It helps if the task challenges you a bit–not something that you feel is impossible, but a little outside your comfort zone.

I write for many reasons, but the one I couldn’t quite explain until now is flow. If you’re not finding enough flow at work, find it somewhere. Writing does it for me, and I don’t get to write nearly as much as I would like as a side effect of running a small communications shop.

If you enjoy running, you most likely experience flow during those miles. I can lose hours in the kitchen cooking; that’s flow too. But I also found it in a surprising place: editing a 184-page technical document. It was tedious work, but well-matched to my skills, and the time just flew by.

When you find your flow, protect it. Days when I need to be most creative, I usually work from home, so I can focus without interruption. A closed door doesn’t help much in my office (does it anywhere?), and I find that being in a different environment spurs creativity. (I wrote this post on the train to New York.) If you don’t find flow at work, find something outside work that gives you that sense of purpose. We all need balance in our lives. I just feel a lot happier when ink meets paper, and I can organize a few of the thoughts racing around in my head.

Flow is a personal thing, but it you’ve found it and don’t mind sharing, maybe you could help someone who hasn’t quite found it yet.