In my previous post I wrote about the challenges of the modern workplace.
Such challenges are especially relatable for knowledge workers, but from people I've spoken to across industries and trades, it seems that many of us can relate to some extent.
Inspired by Cal Newport's latest book Deep Work (which admittedly I haven't finished yet) I have become more serious about figuring out ways to optimize the amount of time I spend in a state of deep focus and flow.
Wikipedia defines Flow as:
the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does ... Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as being in the zone.
... It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task,although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.
There is no clear method to achieving flow, so flow is not the goal.
But there is a method to achieving focus, and on the best of days, true focus will lead to rapturous and absorbing flow.
The goal then is deep focus, and uninterrupted work.
And the method:
- Focus on a single task for 45 minutes without distraction. Phones and other devices on silent.
- Take a 5 minute stretch or walking break.
- Focus for another 45 minutes on a single task. No email.
- Take a 5 minute stretch or walking break.
- Focus for another 45 minutes on a single task. Do not accept conversations from others.
(This method is adapted from the well-established Pomodoro Technique.)
By the end of 2.5 hours of focused, single-minded work, there is a good chance you will have added more true value than you would have in an 8-hour, distraction-filled day that was chopped up into a million pieces.
And you can do it all before lunch.
The challenge many of us face, is how to create an environment in which this is possible.
We all have colleagues who walk in and need our time and attention.
Perhaps we work in an open floor plan office full of conversations and distractions.
Maybe we look at our calendar week after week and realize that we don't have 3 consecutive empty hours, because we've accepted so many meeting requests.
Speaking of which, do I really need to be at that meeting? Does it really need to be 60 minutes? But that's a conversation for another day.
I struggled with this, until I decided to take ownership of the situation.
At the beginning of this year, I established Deep Work Wednesday.
One day a week - Wednesday - I try my very best to schedule nothing, and then I work on my top 1 to 3 tasks throughout the day.
The rules of Deep Work Wednesday:
Schedule no meetings or phone calls on Wednesdays and decline any invitations.
Work in a distraction free environment (for me, that's home).
Put devices on silent. Do not respond to texts or calls.
Commit to not checking social media or other attention-sucking sites. Use an external tool that will prevent those sites from loading if you need to. I use the Self Control App
If you must do email, batch process it no more than 3 times a day. My goal on Wednesdays is to batch it twice - once at noon, and once at the end of the day.
Focus on one task at a time.
Don't switch back and forth between tasks. Try to finish one task, or hit a predetermined stopping point, before switching back to another task.
When you feel like stopping or switching, instead take a deep breath and lean into the task at hand.
Take regular short breaks to prevent mental fatigue (a 5 to 10 minute break every 30 to 120 minutes depending on how you feel). Walking or stretching is preferable to scrolling through Instagram, but that is acceptable if it relaxes you.
Enjoy the flow.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't follow all the rules. Try to follow as many as you can, but we're all human.
I haven't yet been able to achieve a full Wednesday where I followed all the rules perfectly. It takes practice, and the first step is to commit to the method and begin.
Will you join me for Deep Work Wednesdays?