It’s a wonder work gets done these days.
For many managers and their employees, the urge to respond quickly to every alert, multi-task, network and update status is hard to control.
The result: Lots of shallow work – the mindless kind that doesn’t create value or move much ahead.
What’s missing: Deep work – the valuable kind that makes an impact on what matters most to your organization.
Deep work gets results: Go ahead and Google “deep work.” You’ll see pages of posts from people in all industries and occupations praising deep work for their productivity and creativity successes.
It doesn’t come easily, but the commitment to deep work – focusing without distraction on a mentally demanding task – can help anyone catch on to complicated ideas and do better work in less time, says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Here are the keys:
Schedule the work
Make deep work a regular part of each day. Schedule an hour or two and put yourself in a place where you can’t be distracted.
Turn off alerts on your computer (assuming you need it for your deep work), leave your phone behind and avoid the Internet (if possible) to boost your level of focus.
Try to clear your mind of other responsibilities and issues. You need to be in a tidy mental state and physical surrounding to get started.
Focus on the most important thing
Before you start to work, ask yourself: “Will this move the needle or is it just keeping me busy?”
Make sure the deep work you’re about to embark on will have an impact on your career, your employees’ careers or your company’s well-being.
If not, refocus and find other work that has a long-term impact.
Create new habits
So many of us are addicted to our distractions. We can’t have conversations with a person in front of us without checking who’s texting or posting on our phones. Or we can’t work on the tasks at hand without responding to every social media alert that dings.
To break the addiction, and create a deep-work habit, try to work in the same place, at the same time with the same expected results as much as possible.
Drain the shallow end later
Don’t be mistaken: Deep work is exhausting because it pushes you to your limits. So you want to push aside shallow work – tedious, mindless tasks – until after the work.
This will also help you identify shallow work that can be delegated or even eliminated.
Quantify what you do
Focused work can help you advance your career: If you push yourself to stay focused on the big picture, you can start to select projects and strategies for deep work time that shape your career.
Look back weekly for quantity or quality data to prove your hard work had an impact.
Structure shallow work time
Despite all that can be accomplished in deep work, you’ll still have to do shallow work.
Protect that time, too. Budget time for meetings, answering email and doing paperwork.
Then you can create even more time for work that matters.