Recently, at @ynab we all read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport and discussed ways in which we can do our best work, efficicently. I enjoyed the book and thought it made a great case for establishing undisturbed, focused time to get things done. It allowed me to analyze my own work habits and to identify areas for improvement.
Deep Work helped reinforce some of the things I already do:
- Tearing down at the end of the day
- Making a plan for unfinished work
- Powering off my computer
- Closing my home-office door
- Communicating efficiently - “Sounds great, how about we discuss further tomorrow at 3PM CST? I’ll assume that works unless I hear otherwise.” rather than “Sounds great, maybe we should discuss further?”
- Employing down-time to rest my mind. I try to take before work and lunchtime walks through my neighborhood which is filled with peaceful trees.
- Turing off email and chat notifications on my mobile devices. Getting these push notifications is distracting and can be stressful. If someone needs to reach me urgently, they can call!
On the other hand, this book helped challenge (upend?) some beliefs I’ve held without realizing it.
Often, when faced with a hard problem, I have a tendency to walk away from it and then back to it, over and over again. I discovered I’ve held this unspoken belief that this will help me push through the problem, by disengaging and coming back to it later. The problem is, I do this disengage / reengage pattern frequently, and more so than I realized until I thought about it. While Deep Work did talk about rest and not trying to constantly get to “Deep Work mode”, I realized that I need to focus more when tasked with a hard problem, tune out distractions and navigate through the work rather than doing the disengage cycle. In this way, I should be more productive overall. That’s the theory at least, and I’m finding it to be true so far.
I realized I am way more distracted than I need to be. A lot of this is caused by trying to do too many things at one time and not beng pro-active about reducing distractions. A great example: I keep my email and Slack open all day and check for updates quite often. It’s all in the name of “responsiveness” (I tell myself) but I’ve been experimenting with checking email and chat at certain times throughout the day rather than constantly.
Although I recognized how my neighborhood walks are helpful to rest my mind, I realized that when I am done with my work day, I need to create more down-time so I am refreshed for the next day of work. I have a habit of pulling up my mobile device and surfing Twitter, Hacker News or Feedly in the evenings. Although this is not a “work” activity it does make me think about work often and does not support disconnection from my daily work.
An experiment we have been trying @ynab is to have a daily “Quiet Time”, a 2 hour block of time that is designated as time where people will be doing Deep Work and should not be expected to be reachable. It’s taken me awhile to get used to this but more and more I’ve started planning my day so I’ll hit Quiet Time at the point that I need to begin working on tasks that require concentration and focus. I have seen some benefits already and am looking forward to seeing how this block of time effects my overall productivity.