As previously discussed, deep work can provide individuals and teams with a competitive advantage, because it enables high quality work to be produced in shorter periods of time.
As a manager it is key that you educate and empower your teams to work deeply. One of the best ways to start, is by requesting your team members to provide a rough breakdown on the amount of time they spend performing shallow tasks, such as answering emails, checking social media and attending meetings, as opposed to deep tasks that involves more “doing” and producing valuable outputs.
Once this has been documented, ensure the following is communicated:
- Make your expectations clear, in terms of what the desired output must look like;
- Explain that time and quiet are materials and equipment that people need to do their work right; and
- Emphasise that deep work gives them the opportunity to do what they do best every day.
One of the best things a manager can do is to educate their teams about deep work and provide them practical ways of achieving it.
There are four philosophies to integrate deep work into one’s worklife on a sustained basis:
- Monastic: maximise deep work by minimising or removing shallow obligations. Isolating yourself for long periods of time without distractions and where no shallow work is allowed.
- Bimodal: dividing your time into some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leave the rest open to everything else. Reserve a few consecutive days when you will be working like a monastic. You need at least one day a week.
- Rhythmic: the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The rhythmic philosophy involves creating a routine where you define a specific time period — ideally three to four hours every day — that you can devote to deep work.
- Journalistic: alternate your day between deep and shallow work as it fits your blocks of time.
Allow team members to find which philosophy works best for them.
Some practical things to do in order to reduce distractions are:
- Encourage blocking your calendar: Newport recommends that wherever you have a cognitively demanding task, you block out no less than 90 minutes. Not only should you block it out, but you should treat it as sacred and not allow anything else to encroach on that time.
- Empower team members to set up office hours for meetings and calls: Specify when you can be disturbed. For example, have a 30-minute “office hour” every two hours during the work day. During these hours you are fully accessible. Outside these hours you cannot be reached and instead you spend that time producing valuable results.
- Have the team list the single most important thing they want to complete each day: One of the challenges of focusing in the modern workplace is that work is often ill-defined. Everything seems important and urgent which makes it difficult to prioritise and focus on the things that have a real impact. Instead of having people list out every single thing they want to accomplish in a day or week, have them identify the one thing that they believe will have the biggest impact instead.
- Make asynchronous communication the default: When immediate responses are the norm, your team’s attention will always be divided between the work at hand and the messages coming in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Asynchronous communication is sending messages without the expectation of an immediate response. Make clear to your team that delayed responses are not only acceptable but the preferred way of communicating.
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Newport, C. (2016.). Deep work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
Robison, J. (2018). How managers can help teams focus on the work that matters. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236033/managers-help-teams-focus-work-matters.aspx.
Silvestre, D. (2018). Deep work: How to develop the most valuable skill of the 21st Century. Retrieved from http://www.dansilvestre.com/deep-work/.