As somebody who juggled various roles and responsibilities as a software engineer, architect and tech lead, I certainly understand the importance of deep work and how difficult it can be to get it when working with other people.
However, there are ways to get ample of deep work and focus time while working effectively as a team, as individual and while connecting with each other. Optimising for this setup leads to more productivity and effectiveness, more happiness across the team and overall a better performance.
In this article series of four articles, I will explain the importance of deep work on individual and team performance and what to do on an individual and team level for more deep work.
Finally, I will explain how the developer experience team at BRYTER managed to balance deep work with approachability to strike the balance between being a platform- and enabling-team.
Understanding the value of deep work
The first step in protecting deep work is to understand its value.
Research1 proves that distractions can cause significant time wastage. With an average of 60 interruptions per day and 23 minutes and 15 seconds needed to regain focus after a distraction, there is not much time left for deep work.
To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. — Adam Grant, Organisational Psychologist
By prioritising deep work and scheduling uninterrupted blocks of time, we can minimise distractions and improve productivity and quality alike. There are several ways to minimise distractions on an individual and team level.
Why it is hard to make deep work happen
The research behind the importance of deep work is not new. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it: Having more deep work time would make us more productive.
Then, why is it so difficult to get it? There are many reasons that can play a role:
- We want to be there for others: We wish to be available and help others, if they get stuck, have a question or anything else that makes their day less than perfect.
- We need to align: Often, especially when working isolated, questions arise that we cannot answer alone. Furthermore, we need others to align or to answer questions, and thus need to find ways to connect with them.
- Meetings feel urgent and important: People would often call meetings, when they feel stuck, need to align or have questions. This typically feels urgent to them and to the receivers of the invite. We all have been on the other side. Thus, it feels wrong to turn people down or to postpone the meeting.
- We procrastinate on hard work: Most distractions are self-made. We decide to check Slack or Twitter, we decide to grab a coffee or to chat with a colleague. This often happens, when the task at hand is difficult. We are subconsciously seeking for easier tasks that feel equally significant.
- We fail to plan or to set boundaries: Without planning and scheduling focus time, deep work can only happen by lucky coincidences, when a meeting gets cancelled, or we really are not distracted by anyone else. It is important to note, that preparation, planning, and discipline can make a huge difference.
Awareness is the first step
We typically make the mistake of taking the current reality as unchangeable: “It is, as it is”. This is an excuse. It is easy to accept the status-quo and not think any further.
However, to improve the quality, productivity, and experience of our work, constantly improving the situation and questioning the status-quo is mandatory.
For engineers: Keep in mind that your purpose is to deliver value to customers and your organisations.
For leaders: Keep in mind that your purpose is to do everything possible to support engineers on this mission.
People are just not aware of the true cost of meetings. They might even do the math:
meeting cost = average salary per hour * number of attendees * duration in hours
This formula is wrong. Considering the time people need to really get back into deep work and peak performance, you should add at least 0.38 hours (23 minutes) to the duration of the meeting. And this is a fix cost.
That 10-minute status update? Shoot! A productivity loss of over 30 minutes for everyone involved!
Becoming aware of the cost of distractions will help you and your team to become more mindful about distracting each other and findings ways to reduce distractions and confine them into smaller time slots in your calendar.
For example, if you would like to schedule a discovery call with me, you will find that I am only available Wednesday to Friday and often only for limited times throughout the day. This is intentional as I need focus and deep work time to work with and for clients, write blog articles and prepare conference talks and workshops.
The amount of deep work is one essential factor that defines the productivity of you and your team. Putting an effort in getting more deep work out of the week can help you to achieve higher levels of performance and a better quality of work.
In my next article, I will give you 7 tips for more deep work for individuals. But you don’t have to wait until then.
Ask yourself now: What can I do to get more deep work time? How can I help my colleagues to get more time for deep work?