AT ONE EXTREME, work can be overwhelmingly
stressful. At the other end of the spectrum, work can be completely
boring. Somewhere in the middle, the work is challenging enough
to compel your attention and yet not enough to completely outstrip
your ability. When you hit that perfect middle zone, work becomes
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University
of Chicago discovered that people reach this zone more often
at work (54 percent of the time) than in leisure (18 percent
of the time). When in this zone, people feel creative, active,
concentrated, strong and happy more so than when theyre
not in that zone.
Work has gotten a bad reputation, probably
from the beginning of this century when working conditions were
horrible. But those days are over and clearly we have the opportunity
to experience a lot of satisfaction while working. The key
is matching our skill to the challenge confronting us. When
challenges and skills are well matched, we enter the zone. When
they are not matched, its unpleasant too
much challenge is stressful; not enough is boring.
If you are experiencing stress and tension
at work, the solution is to increase your skill until
it matches your challenge. For example, a typist buried in a
backlog of unfinished work feels overwhelmed and tense. The feeling
of tension tells him something: He has too much challenge. The
solution is more skill, so he asks himself, What
skill could I improve to help me catch up on my backlog?
Maybe his answer is Typing speed. He buys a typing-tutor
program and practices after work. His typing speed increases
(and his stress level decreases) until eventually his skill level
matches the challenge of the job, and his work enters The Enjoyment
To cure boredom on the job, you go the
other way: Increase the challenge. The way to increase the challenge
is to set and pursue goals beyond what is required by the job.
Get the job done well and attain some other targets simultaneously.
Lets say our typists program of self-improvement
worked so well that its now a year later and he no longer
has any backlog. In fact, hes getting all his work done
ahead of time! His job is no longer stressful. Now its
Boredom makes you feel tired and even apathetic.
You feel like you need rest, but what you really need is more
There are hundreds of ways our typist could
increase his challenge. I'll give you two. First, he could try
to make his typing as perfect as possible: using the correct
finger for every letter, never looking at the keyboard, making
no spelling errors, etc. And then, keeping these high standards,
he could try to continuously increase his speed. Second, he could
look around and see what other challenges (related to the job)
he could tackle reorganizing, making systems more efficient,
Now heres the catch. You knew there
was a catch, didn't you? In the pursuit of The Enjoyment Zone,
your skills keep increasing. So you need to keep increasing the
challenge to keep up with it or you slip out of the zone and
But keeping a good match between skills
and challenges isn't as hard as it sounds, and the result is
more enjoyment, so its worth the trouble. And since increasing
skills are usually associated with increased opportunities for
promotions and raises, there is another possible side effect
you might enjoy: More money.
If youre bored, increase your challenge. If youre
stressed, increase your skill.