Blocking Off Time for Deep Work

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I AM IN MEETINGS ALL DAY!

As I worked from home this past week, I found that my workload was gradually getting larger, my workdays were getting longer and I was starting to feel burnt out. I was surprised to be feeling this way. I was home, after all, and thought that would make my life easier. 

I’d find myself running to get a quick bite, around noon, for the first meal of the day before running back to my laptop to prepare for my afternoon of meetings. I am constantly in back to back meetings pushing out heads-down work to after 5 PM. I had a meeting with a client that was ending at 5:30 PM. She casually mentioned that she was going to step away for lunch. At 5:30 PM! As I spoke to other coaches, we all quickly realized that this was something we were all experiencing and that our clients were likely experiencing as well.

THIS IS HOW WE SEE IT

What we’re noticing is that there are two issues that need to be addressed. One is the ability for the team to dedicate time to deep, concentrated, distraction-free work. The other issue is helping the team delineate between work and personal time effectively. We believe that if we solved the first issue, the second would mostly solve itself and we would open up a lot of space for the team to be productive and avoid burn out.

DEEP WORK

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work defines the ability to accomplish high-quality work as the product of time spent and intensity of focus.

Work Accomplished = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus) 

Working from home means we’re always accessible and meetings are lasting longer virtually than they were in person. A virtual meeting that typically lasted 15 minutes in person, is now taking almost 40 minutes as we get accustomed to this new way of working.

We’ve also lost the ability to lean over and talk to the people around us for quick answers and resolutions. Any quick congregation of two or more people now requires a meeting. This means that the team is primarily in meetings during the day and not able to spend time dedicated to the work.

HERE’S HOW TO GET BACK TO WORK

Software development is complex and as such requires high levels of intense concentration. Agile team members are constantly finding creative solutions to address the tough problems they’re faced with. A distraction can make a fragile thought to a tough problem vanish, which can immensely impact a team’s overall productivity.

WHEN – Daniel Pink

We are the most productive, energized, and focused during the early hours of our day. These are the hours where we have the most energy and can think logically to solve complex problems. 

In the afternoon into the evening this energy begins to fade away, where we start to become less focused, and a little more creative. This is the perfect time to dedicate to non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks like email. These are tasks you can do at any time and don’t require any deep concentration, analysis, and logical construction.

It is a shame to spend your golden morning hours on mundane tasks like scrolling through email when you are capable of doing really impactful work instead.

SET TEAM AGREEMENTS

During our retrospective, the team talked about blocking off time for heads-down work. What came out of that discussion was an agreement to block off an hour in the morning (11 AM – 12 PM) and an hour in the afternoon (3 PM – 4 PM) for uninterrupted, meeting-free time. During these hours we agree to not schedule team meetings and allow everyone the luxury to do their hardest work that requires the most focus.

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS DURING DEEP WORK

Your deep work time is sacred and must be used for ruthless execution. The idea is, just get to work. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Get the main points, and structure out and you’ll have the rest of the day to refine and fine-tune it. How you can prepare for this is to do the research, thinking, and brainstorming the night before. Set up a short to-do list that you plan on attacking the next morning. 

STAY TUNED

Try the techniques in this article a sprint or two and see how productive you and your team become. You won’t believe it.

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