Think about a typical day in your office…
Perhaps you chat with colleagues, check email, return phone calls, open a work file, check email again – which leads you to your social media feed… A universe of beeps, rings and pings beckons attention and steals productivity. Distraction is the new normal. The culprit: technology.
Multi-tasking is a misnomer because research shows doing two things at once means each task suffers. One study found a typical office worker gets just 11 minutes between interruptions, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interference.
It’s worth asking whether you and your team are giving yourselves the chance to put your mind to important tasks. The author of Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, says most serious professionals should quit social media and we should all practise being bored. Professor Cal Newport defines Deep Work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit”. That sweet spot, where you’re focused and productive, is often referred to as a ‘state of flow’.
Five Ways to Improve Flow
A big project is due. You need to minimise distractions to meet your deadline. You must make minutes count rather than stretch your work hours from here to next Sunday. Here are five ways to get into a state of flow, where you’re ultra-productive and focused:
1) Limit social media.
Cull the feeds you rarely use. Maybe keep LinkedIn but cut Instagram. Are you using your Twitter account, or can you get news another way? If Facebook or another site is stealing too much of your time, curtail its use through technology, with an app like Freedom, https://freedom.to/, which can block internet access for up to eight hours at a stretch. Or StayFocused, a Chrome extension that restricts minutes spent on time-wasting websites. The extension is totally flexible, allowing you to set the amount of time you can waste each day, determine which websites are time-wasters, and decide if you’d like to block certain sites altogether.
2) Give yourself a strict time period to work.
This limits procrastination and prevents burnout. Newport calls working 9-5, with no weekend work, fixed-schedule productivity. The more limits you give yourself, the less time you have for wasting. Deadlines such as ‘I have 90 minutes to finish this business case’, or ‘I will finish work by 5.30pm each day’, make it easier to keep yourself on task.
Newport says he doesn’t work past 5.30pm and rarely works weekends yet manages a full-time professor job and writes books.
3) Introduce Deep Work strategies:
- Monastic: isolate yourself for long periods of time without distractions; no shallow work allowed. This is when you squirrel yourself away in a distant room and tell everyone you’re unavailable
- Bimodal: reserve a few consecutive days when you’ll work like a monastic. For example, you go to your quiet space Monday through Wednesday, then return to your usual routine of meetings and taking calls the rest of the week
- Rhythmic: take three to four hours each day to perform Deep Work on your project – this strategy might involve blocking your calendar from 8am-12pm each day so you can work uninterrupted
4) Transition to Deep Work.
Use rituals and set routines to minimise friction in your transition to depth. After you decide on your working philosophy, commit to scheduling Deep Work blocks into your diary and stick to them. Scheduling a specific time of day in advance negates the need to use willpower. Also, know where you’ll work and for how long. Create a zone specifically to perform Deep Work.
5) Drain the shallows.
Confine shallow work so it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of deeper efforts that will ultimately determine your impact.
Use time blocking to schedule every minute of your day, and group tasks into blocks, such as emailing, printing, scheduling meetings, etc. Don’t worry if you tweak your schedule multiple times. The goal is not to be a schedule stickler, but to maintain a say in what kind of work you’re doing.
Economist, philosopher and author, Adam Smith, figured out the value of Deep Work in the 18th century: “The man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work”.
Deep Work improves efficiency. Get in touch if you’d like help with other strategies to increase efficiency in your business.