We live in a world full of productivity hacks and tips & tricks. They promise to help us work better. Help us manage the onslaught of emails hitting our inboxes, all the dings & pings of our work messengers, and countless “meetings that could have been emails”. Productivity hacks can be helpful, but I like to equate them to dieting. Cutting sugar is excellent! But only cutting sugar will not make you healthy – you have to do a lot of other things too. All those things added up equals a lifestyle change. Something sustainable that will, over time, make a difference. Productivity hacks are the dieting trends, and deep work is the lifestyle change.
Deep work, coined by Cal Newport, is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. These tasks are high-impact and require all of our concentration. Unfortunately, distractions make concentrating on a single task (known as monotasking) challenging. We fill our days bouncing around from one task to another – known as shallow work. Shallow tasks are tasks that can be done while distracted – answering emails, messaging in Slack, and even attending unproductive meetings.
Task switching not only impacts our work’s quality but also costs us time. It takes 23 minutes to regain focus every time you switch tasks. According to Workplace Trends, people lose 2.1 hours daily due to distraction – just five instances of switching tasks. Our world glorifies multitasking when really it’s hurting our ability to get meaningful work done. When we get more meaningful work done, we have more time to participate in our non-work life with purpose.
Implementing deep work into your work life will require you to make some changes but being consistent will make it stick. Old me used to be an executive assistant – always interruptable and juggling multiple things simultaneously. Training my brain to perform deep work took time, and I am still working on it – just like a muscle. Here are some helpful pointers to start your deep work work-life change.
Where to start
The best way to start is to find time for it. Take a look at your calendar and find a block of 2 hours in your day that you will work uninterrupted. Decline meetings that aren’t a good use of your time and propose moving them asynchronous. The Workfrom team uses Voxer and Slack to asynchronously check in with each other on things that we need to collaborate on.
Once you find a block of time, create a calendar event with yourself. Blocking the time on your calendar does two things: it helps you be more accountable to yourself and signals to others that you aren’t available. Take a peek below at what my calendar looks like.
As a result of blocking off time for deep work, that leaves chunks of time I can complete shallow work. During that time, I am interruptable for people to stop by my office (my virtual cafe ↗️), and I open my door. If it’s closed, people can knock, and I let them in.
Set yourself up for success
If you’ve made appointments with yourself to do two hours of deep work every day, congratulations! That’s huge and sometimes the most challenging part for people. What you do during that time you set aside will impact whether or not this becomes a habit you adopt. Here are some pointers that help me maximize my concentration, so I don’t break my focus and slip into shallow work.
- Listen to music that motivates you and cuts down on distractions. Choose music on Spotify or YouTube that is lyrics-free or instrumental. Lyrics can be distracting for our brains, so epic movie scores or lofi beats are a great choice. If you work from a virtual cafe, grab the link from the browser and paste it into the music section in your cafe.
- Work on one task at a time. Research shows that multitasking can hurt productivity (up to 40%!) by reducing comprehension, focus, and overall performance. (read more ↗️). It can also increase stress and reduce your IQ. During each deep work period, write down your “big 3” – three tasks that will make a meaningful impact. Then focus on them one at a time. If you use a virtual cafe, toggle on “Today’s Goals” in the widget section and log them there. Check them off as you go for that positive feedback loop!
- Turn off notifications. Put your phone away and silence your computer notifications for those two hours. Pro-tip! If you have a work messenger, create a status that shows you cannot be interrupted. Mine looks like this:
Make it stick
Your daily deep work habit is strengthened by creating a ritual around it. Perhaps it’s grabbing your go-to drink while working from your favorite cafe. Maybe it’s finding your favorite space at home while listening to ambient music with noise-canceling headphones. My ritual is a cup of coffee or tea, sitting at my desk, entering a virtual cafe, closing the door, and every day at the same time. My brain instantly knows why we’re here and that it’s time to take care of business.
If you struggle to hold yourself accountable, get a friend or coworker to work with you – virtual or in person. Working alongside someone has been coined in the ADHD community as body-doubling. The mere presence of someone can help people stay on task and avoid drifting into distraction. (read more ↗️).
Want more help?
If you have tried the above and it’s not working for you, there’s help. Work Club was launched to help remote workers get more done than they would alone. It’s an inclusive community of workers that achieve better life-work balance through focused work, ritual, and accountability. Join in on small-group virtual coworking sessions that combine the power of working around others with expert-guided work sprints so you accomplish more in less time and without the isolation of working remotely.
You can join for free and get access to a 24/7 community cafe online and try a free guided work sprint. Upgrade for unlimited access to daily sprints. Learn more and sign up.
Wishing you all the focus to get meaningful work done!