Have you ever uttered the phrase, “If I only had a few more minutes (hours, days)?" Are you pulled in several directions, often at the same time? Emails, IM’s, friends tagging you on Facebook (Snapchat, Instagram), deadlines at work, family events...the list is daunting. For many of us, time has become our most precious and rare resource.
We are all equally rich in time (as Hermione’s Time Turner is not yet available to the masses). My 24 hours is no more or less than Richard Branson’s or Darren Hardy’s — but the productivity I was packing into each 24 hours was coming up short. I understood and was already benefiting from writing down my goals, but I had a nagging feeling my perpetual multitasking approach was more disruptive than constructive.
In early 2018, I discovered Cal Newport's book "Deep Work," which presents a concept that applies best to people who do thought work: programmers, writers, researchers, designers, craftsmen and so forth. Newport discusses how the very nature of the role company leaders play makes some of the more traditional Deep Work practices improbable, if not impossible. However, there are some practices, which I affectionately refer to as Deep Work “Lite," that have significantly impacted my productivity (while simultaneously making me less busy).
What does this look like? Each person needs to find the best model to suit their specific demands and lifestyle (Newport’s book lays out many scenarios and options).
For me, it is dedicating 45-90 minutes to work without distractions or interruptions every morning after my morning routine. I close my email, silence (and remove from sight) my phone, make sure my husband is aware (I have a home office) and GO!
The first time I did this, I was amazed by how much I got done in such a short amount of time (I completed a blog and drafted a second in 45 minutes). I had been oblivious to just how much productivity I had been losing by catering to all those quick little intrusions.
Why is it important to minimize interruptions? Because we don’t just pick up where we left off. Our brain needs to work back to the place it was before we yanked it away.
Research tells us we lose about 22-23 minutes of productivity every time we interrupt our state of deep work or "flow," as it is often called. This sounds so simple — but many of us are programmed to be “on demand” to so many all the time. Regardless of our role as parents, leaders or friends, the expectation to respond immediately to every text, email and Facebook tag seems urgent and paramount. The challenge to shut out the noise and make time to dive deep into a project, professional or personal, is real. But the benefits of Deep Work — increased output and more time for what is most important to you — are just as real.
Another intentional action of my Deep Work Lite program is setting email “appointments” on my daily calendar. I select specific times throughout the day (four to six times) to check my emails (and then close my email client). With the new addition of a Virtual Assistant, that will come down to two or three times per day. Each email session takes me 15-30 minutes to complete, and then I shut it down (notifications off). I find my tendency to procrastinate responding to the more challenging emails is no longer an issue. “Doing emails” is now an intentional activity in my day and therefore I am more focused and determined to complete the task.
Another baby step? Schedule time for a walk (run, hike) without your phone and let your mind do the rest. My most creative ideas and insights happen when I run. Without the distractions of my home or office, my brain is free to explore endless avenues to tackle a strategic problem or generate my next big idea.
New habits are hard to develop and old habits are even harder to shake. I have days when my intentions match my actions and days when my intentions get lost and forgotten. Don’t give up when you have a day pulling you in many directions. Give yourself some grace, keep those Deep Work appointments on your calendar and remember: there is always tomorrow.
Cheri Kuhn is a Professional EOS Implementer and founder of the Perfect Planner. Read her leadership blogs at traction-advantage.com/news/.