In my next article, I will complete this with tips for getting more deep work as a team. Finally, I will finish this series with an article on how platform- and enabling-teams can structure their work to get enough focus time.
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The 7 tips for more deep work and focus time for individuals
Here are the seven tipps that will help you to get more focus time when working alone. They will not only work for you when you work alone, but also when you are collaborating as a team. If every member of your team is following these tips, you can achieve more focus time together.
1. Set all your devices to Do-not-Disturb
Most notifications you will get are disconnected from your current task and thus will take your focus. Enabling the Do-not-Disturb mode on your phone, watch, and computer will avoid, that you get distracted by all kinds of notifications. If you really have to, you can customise which apps can send notifications during your focus time.
2. Turn off other distractions
Silencing your devices is a great first step. But distractions can come from other places, such as a need to get water, coffee or visit the bathroom.
Especially when work gets difficult, it is easy to distract yourself with a visit to the coffee kitchen. Partners, pets, children, and other local factors can be distractors as well.
Communicate to the people around you and walk your dog before going into your focus time.
3. Let others know that you might not react for an extended time
In tools like Slack, people can see, if you have deactivated notifications. Furthermore, it helps to set your status and let people know that you are in a focused time with the 🎧 emoji and a complementing status message.
When you are working in a physical office, you can find other means of signalling your co-workers to not interrupt you. Wearing headphones or having a post-it at your door or the back of your chair can work well.
Back then, at Dräger, we had traffic lights on top of our desks/monitors that would switch their color based on our Skype status. We encouraged our co-workers to respect “red” as: Don’t interrupt.
Of course, it depends on your environment, so it is worthwhile to reflect on the most effective way of communicating focus and deep work times to the people around you.
4. Manage expectations
Friends, partners, and colleagues might be used to you responding immediately. You might feel a certain pressure to live up to that expectation. Don’t!
Messaging and emails were invented for asynchronous communication. Furthermore, most people are happy when they know you will get back to them, eventually.
If this is a new behaviour that you would like to establish, talk to the people around you and express your need for interrupt-free times. Let them know that it might take you longer to react to their messages and that this is nothing personal, but rather your way to satisfy your need for focus and quality time.
Furthermore, make this mutual: Express to them that you also do not expect them to answer immediately, but at a time that is most suitable to them.
A positive side effect is, that you won’t respond to them under pressure on the fly, but can give their messages more time to think about them and give better answers. This is equally beneficial for both of you.
5. Block your calendar
Being able to schedule meetings with colleagues effortlessly is great. However, just being able to drop invites into other peoples calendars comes with the risk of fracturing your workday into small and unproductive chunks.
I would usually block multiple chunks of about two to three hours in my calendar so that those times become unavailable for meetings. This forces meetings into times when I do not plan for deep work.
You will see this in practice when you would like to schedule a free discovery call with me. 😉
6. Defragment your calendar
Occasionally, you will receive invites for 30 minute calls for whatever reason. Often, they are also important and interesting and you want to take them. Refuse the urge to hit “Accept” right away.
Think a moment if there is some slot that works better for you and equally well for the other person. I would rather batch a series of 1:1s in one afternoon instead of having them scattered across the day or week. Putting short meetings in a sequence will give you big blocks of meeting free times.
Bonus-Tip: Think about the time when you are usually most productive. Example: When it comes to working alone, I find it much easier to work on difficult tasks in the morning rather than the (late) afternoon. Thus, I try to get more focus time in the mornings and keep the afternoons more open for meetings and collaboration.
7. Think about others
Help others to get deep work by avoiding forceful distractions for them. This could mean not approaching them when they seem focussed, or being mindful where in their day you schedule an invitation. Furthermore, think if a meeting is really needed or if there are asynchronous ways of achieving the same.
When it is just about delivering information: Write it down, record a video and give the recipients channels where to ask questions asynchronously. This will help them to schedule consuming your information when it is most appropriate for them.
In this article, I have presented seven tips that can help individuals to get more deep work and focus time. The seven tips are:
- Set all your devices to Do-not-Disturb
- Turn off other distractions
- Let others know that you might not react for an extended time
- Manage expectations
- Block your calendar
- Defragment your calendar
- Think about others
Following these tips can give you more time throughout the week when you can focus on a single topic and even crack challenging tasks more easily.
The seven tips for individuals are an important precondition for lifting deep work and focus time to the team level. When all team members follow these tips, you will manage to get more focus time together. This will allow for new levels of deep work, and I will expand on this in my next article.
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