Deep Work: Busy BUT Not Focused

Many people are busy, not many people are productive.

So, what separates productive people from their counterparts?

The productive people tend to be task oriented by nature, backed with the ability to structure their lives (work and social) in a way that facilitates their goals. They are well aware to be successful they must make sacrifices and be selfish. However, those who are truly successful (in my books) are those that achieve a balance between their ‘personal goal orientated sacrifices’ and the rest of their life.

Focus on tasks instead of time!

This will not only increase productivity but employee health, enjoyment and reduce stress levels, as they are now motivated to complete their workload. Instead of watching the clock and attempting to ‘wait out the clock’ for the sack of filling in time. This concept was discussed in one of our previous posts Time for a Change! Rethink the Work Day. Many leading business such as Netflix & Virgin now choose to focus on results over time. This will allow them to free up the rest of their day to do the things they love; including spending time with family, competing in sport, or going to the gym etc.

How is this Balance Achieved??

Quality over Quantity

Just like everything we prescribe at Taylored Health & Performance, we want to achieve the minimal dose for maximal impact! Forget perfection! The game of perfection is an endless game that just becomes progressively harder to achieve, often resulting in negative consequences. As humans we are not designed to be perfect, in fact we are far from it. But successful people know how to identify their weaknesses and strengths (physically and psychologically) and will use them to their advantage.

Work can be divided into two divisions:

Where do you spend the most of your time?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.

Shallow work: Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Success comes from the ability to spend more time in deep work. Here are the steps to maximise your productivity according to the ‘Taylored Model’. You may not be able to start with big regular blocks dedicated for deep work and that is fine, in fact it could be helpful as you train this skill. Just lock in a couple of period of time a week and build from there.

 

Steps to Success:

  1. Energy peaks and troughs: Chrono Type
  2. Plan: Monthly, Weekly & Daily
  3. Disconnect
  4. Deep Work
  5. Don’t Multitask

  1. Energy peaks and troughs: Chrono Type

We all have peaks and troughs of energy, and when these period occur will be different for everyone. This is what we refer to as Chronotype, a behavioral manifestation of an underlying circadian rhythm of myriad physical processes. In other words there are individual differences in sleep timing and in preferences for a given time of day during a 24 hour period, some of us are night owls and others are early morning rises and the reasons for this characteristic is due to your chronotype.

We all know intrinsically when we function at our best, if not then I suggest taking some time to tune into your body. The ability to harness this energy will greatly improve your cognitive power and productivity allowing you to achieve a deeper state of work.

Example: Myself

A morning person by nature I am most productive first thing. To maximise this early window my day is organised around this key slot of time. I complete high cognitive work such as writing and researching first thing and I leave shallow tasks like bookings, emails, and other communications to later in the day.    

 

  1. Plan: Monthly, Weekly & Daily

The importance of a plan goes without saying, we all know about this step but so often neglect it. I am not saying we should set ridged plans, a plan should be a guiding force keeping us in line and on target towards our goals. Plans should be flexible and mobile because as projects develop and so do new opportunities that may involve changing from the set plan.

Without structure it becomes easy to become caught up in the shallow tasks that end up sucking up all your valuable mental energy. Planning should not take long, you just need to put time aside each day (2-5 min), month (10-20 min) and week (5-10 min). When you decide to do this planning will also depend on you chronotype.

Be as detailed and specific as possible! Once you have your tasks listed try ranking them according to their importance and difficulty. First identify the one task that would have the most profound impact, often the task you least want to do due to the cognitive load. If you have heard of the 80/20 rule this is the 20% that will make the biggest impact on 80% of your results. As you may have guessed this goes right at the top and is to be the first thing you complete in your key productivity window. From the remaining tasks identify the mindless shallow tasks and place them at bottom the list, these are either non important and regardless you want to outsource where possible. Richard Branson calculates task difficulty by asking ‘how long would it take a grad student to learn this task’. If you can identifying if the task is below your pay grade and your time then it is better completed elsewhere or later.

Example: Myself

Personally I like to establish a plan before the month/week/day. For example spending the last 2-5 min of work for the day planning my next day so that when I kickstart my day I have a structured plan setout and can dive straight into it. If I am running low on time I just I don’t write and exhaustive list I will just identify the 20% that will make the most significant impact.

 

  1. Disconnect

This next step is integral part of the process and is becoming more and more important by the day. With all the technology designed to promote productivity it has got to the point of overload where it now has an adverse effect on productivity as we are continually interrupted. Remove yourself from the distraction and identity windows of time where you can block out time, ideally 2-4 hrs where you can disconnect and focus. Bring the benefits of a writing retreat to your office, turn your phone off or onto airplane mode, turn any other notifications off eg. emails, and focus on key tasks at hand and nothing else!.

This does not just include technology, remove yourself from all temptation, including people. Either remove yourself completely to escape the inventable interruptions and find a quite isolated space free of distractions or inform those who may interrupt that you are in a deep work block and not to be interrupted unless the need is of vital importance (highlight what is vital, everyone’s 

definition is different!). Set the deep work context in your workplace and encourage others to follow suit and watch productivity saw.

Example: Myself

I set my phone on Airplane mode the night before and do not turn airplane mode off until my block is completed so that I have no temptation. It was difficult at first but now is habit. I also used to be distracted by the need for breakfast but now that I practice intermittent fasting (14-18hr fasted blocks) I don’t normally eat to around mid day allowing myself to really capitalise on this block. This is a conversation I will cover in future posts.

 

  1. Deep Work

You are now ready to train the ability to achieve a deep state of work. I say train because at first it will be difficult for most as we are not used to uninterrupted time. Just like anything this is a skill that needs to be practiced.

 

  1. Don’t Multitask

Finally once in these windows of deep work fight the temptation to multi-task it will cost in time, but more importantly, it comes at a very high cognitive expense. It saps your limited focus and mental power making you less productive.

 

Summary

If you are like me once you begin to implement these key productivity blocks you will never look back! Realising that you are significantly more productive than your once extended work day in a now compressed time window (less than 2-4 hrs, half of a standard work day) freeing you up to do the other things you love!