PPI #33: How To Get More Done with Deep WorkAug 01, 2020
Does it feel like it takes you forever to get things done? Maybe you feel you just don't have enough time, that you need more hours in your day. But the truth is you don't need more time – what you need more than anything is to learn how to leverage the power of deep work.
Deep work happens when you work on something without any distraction, in an intensely focused manner, whilst also making sure that you're working on things that are going to really move the needle and have the biggest influence on your goals.
- First thing in the morning is my time for deep work, where I focus on the most important creative work I have to do. I don't want to be distracted doing menial tasks like responding to email – I want to be deeply focused on the things that matter.
- In the afternoon, when my energy starts to wane and I need energy from other people, I schedule teamwork sessions, including internal and external meetings.
- Finally I finish the day up with what I call monkey work, which I batch together when I've finished my more important tasks. This will typically involve administrative, mindless tasks, such as getting expenses recorded, tidying up the office or the desk or rattling off a few emails.
Does it feel like it takes forever for you to get the things that you want to get done in your business or life? Or do you feel like you just don't have enough time to get everything done, that you need more hours in your day? You don't need more time. You certainly don't need more things to do. Actually what you need to develop is your ability to focus intensely on whatever it is that you're doing. The style of intense focus, many have referred to it as the ability to work deeply, or the ability to engage in deep work on a particular thing. When we say deep work, what we mean is the ability to work on something without any distraction, super intensely focused, and also tending to focus on the things that are going to really move the needle. The things that are going to be both cognitively demanding for us, but also create some momentum in our lives. Too much of our time gets spent doing a myriad of things that are actually quite trivial and that scatterbrain approach to our business, our life, and our goals certainly doesn't help us close that gap between where we are and where we'd like to be.
My name is Eric Partaker, and I help CEOs, entrepreneurs, and individuals close that gap between where they are and where they'd like to be, not just in their business, but also just generally speaking within their life. Today, I want to tell you about how you can cultivate your ability to engage in deep work, how you can cultivate that ability to work with intense focus on the things that matter most. It is a skill that is very rare these days, but it's super valuable.
We live in this environment these days where we're constantly being bombarded with notifications from our emails, Slack notifications, social media notifications, various newsfeeds, and all of this contributes to our inability to work deeply on the things that matter most. So today we're going to take you through how you can learn to engage in deep work, on the things that will truly move the needle in your life. Number one, the first thing that you can be doing is I like to separate my day into three different categories: deep work, teamwork, and monkey work. And let me explain what each of those things mean. So deep work tends to be my morning time where I'm going to be either producing content or doing a little bit of research or working on something that requires my creativity. I want to be intensely focused during that time.
I don't want to be distracted doing menial tasks, such as completing my expenses or perhaps responding to a barrage of emails about various administrative things relating to the work. Instead, I want to be deeply focused on the things that matter most. So I categorize that first part of my day as deep work time. When my energy also starts to wane, and I need maybe the energy from other people, teamwork is scheduled for my afternoons. That's when I'm going to be engaging in meetings with others, whether internal or external. Like I said, it's almost like I want to benefit from the energy of others. I kind of think of myself as like a light bulb. I'm starting the day and I'm at a hundred percent energy. So during that start of the day, I want to focus on the things that require my deepest, most thoughtful, most creative attention.
Then in the afternoon, when my energy is starting to wane, let's say that light bulb is only about 33% power, so if I'm working with two other people we have a hundred percent power, if you will. So deep work and teamwork. And then lastly, monkey work. I like to batch that towards the end of my day. These will be very administrative, maybe mindless tasks, such as getting your expenses tidied up, it could be just tidying up the office or the desk, going through some files or rattling off a few emails quickly to various partners or suppliers. So, the first thing that you can do to cultivate your ability for deep work for no distractions, free focus work is separate your day into deep work, teamwork and monkey work.
Number two - the second thing that you can be doing is really identify for that deep work time block at the start of your day, what is it that's going to really move the needle? What's the most important thing that you can be doing? There's a myriad of things that you could be working on, but what are the things for example that are going to generate revenue? What are the things that are actually going to build the brand? What are the things that are going to actually help the company or the team achieve results? That's where you should be putting your attention. You should be asking yourself, if everything elsewhere were to stay the same, where's the one area where change would have the most positive impact? If you're a writer and you're into writing books, well then what's the one thing that you need to be doing? It's writing. If you're a speaker and you want to be speaking more, what's the one thing that you need to be doing? Booking and speaking at engagements.
So think about that - what is the one thing or collection of things that's going to really move the needle? Really zero in on that. The next thing that you can be doing is making sure that you schedule the work on those things within your calendar. So earlier we talked about structuring your calendar so that you have deep work, teamwork, and monkey work. In your deep work part of the day, ideally that looks like a lot of blank meeting slots, but you can be actually scheduling appointments with yourself on whatever those particular topics are. So, “write chapter one of the book,” or, “work on presentation,” or “work on the speaking script,” whatever it is, actually schedule it into your calendar. What gets scheduled gets done. Schedule those activities, those specific projects or tasks, right in that deep work time block. Again, what gets scheduled gets done.
The next thing that you can be doing is, and this is going to sound like a simple one, but it's to show up. Let me explain what I mean by this. When you're meeting with someone else, what happens typically? I know on occasion, you might be late for that meeting, but you show up, right? You show up on time. You're there for the meeting. It's a two o'clock meeting, you're there for two o'clock. And then when's the last time, for example, when you sit down, you're meeting someone at two o'clock and 2:15 comes along and suddenly you just pick up your phone. The person is sitting right there with you, but you just pick up your phone and start talking to someone else. When's the last time that you did that? Well, hopefully not anytime soon.
When's the last time that you're speaking with that person and just sort of mid sentence, you just stop talking and you get up, don’t even say goodbye. You just walk straight out of the cafe or the coffee shop and just leave, walk down the street. I mean, if you did that, it would be absolutely ludicrous, right? The person sitting there would be like, “What the heck just happened? He or she just got up and left.” My point is, when we're meeting with others, we don't dare disrespect him in this way. We show up on time. We're there, we're present with them. We don't just abruptly leave in the form of taking a phone call or walking out the door. So why on earth wouldn't you show yourself the same respect? What I mean with scheduling those important tasks into your calendar that you want to engage deeply on with intense focus, you need to actually show up to them. When that appointment comes in your calendar, work on that presentation, do this, do that.
You stop what you're doing as if someone just walked in that you were supposed to be meeting with, because you know 100% when that happens, when you're supposed to be meeting with somebody, you invariably stop. It doesn't matter where you are, you stop and you do that meeting. This is the same thing that you need to do with the things that you schedule into your calendar.
The next thing that we need to do to optimize ourselves for deep work is we need to eliminate distractions. When you're working, if you're sitting at your computer, think of all the things that could distract you - Slack notifications, social media notifications, email notifications - they need to be shut down. Notifications need to be turned off while you're in deep work mode, because every time you get interrupted, it's going to interrupt your ability to produce your best work.
So what I tend to do is I have no browser tabs open. If I'm working on a document, for example, I'll put it in full screen mode. So I can't even see the menu bar up on top. I'm fully focused on whatever that document is. If I want to become my superhuman self, and if being able to work more deeply, more focused, is a path for me to achieve that. As it can be you for you to become your superhuman self, then your kryptonite is your mobile phone, right? There are studies that show that even your cell phone in sight, even seeing it, will inhibit or reduce your ability to focus deeply on whatever it is that you're working on in the moment.
Here’s the crazy thing - it doesn't even need to be your phone, even someone else's phone in sight. Because we've trained ourselves to associate that instant gratification with our telephones in the form of, “Oh, there's a new email. What does this say?” Or a new social media hit that even seeing it in sight inhibits our ability to work deeply. So get the phone out of the room, in a drawer, somewhere out of sight.
The next thing that you could be doing to engage in work more deeply is to activate the flow state. I've done another video on this, I highly recommend you check out that video about how you activate the flow state, but it's essentially making sure that before you begin a period of quality work, like a session of deep work where you're going to intensely focus on something and be in that distraction-free state, we need to prime ourselves for that event for that period of work.
We do that with a simple, deep breathing exercise. Again, check out that video. I'll take you all through it, but it's essentially a series of deep breaths where you calm yourself, you let go of the past, you let go of the future - neither of those things are relevant. You take a vacation in the present moment. Doesn't that sound nice? A vacation, relax in the present moment. And then you're much better suited to work with intent. Distraction-free focus on whatever it is that's on your plate at that moment. The next thing that you can be doing to help you engage in deep work - this is very, very important - is shut down your day. I know that sounds simple, but most people don't do it. Their work day bleeds into their home life. They're still thinking about what they should be doing at work.
I've also done another piece on this, if you're listening to this as a podcast, you'll find it as a podcast. If you happen to be watching this as a video, you'll see another video on this. So in whatever form suits you, you will find another piece of content around how to build a shutdown ritual. How to separate work from home. But essentially what that is, is a static appointment in your calendar, where when you get to that appointment, you just go through a very, very simple checklist to shut down your day. So you do a final email check, you update your to do list, you look at the calendar for the next day, you choose the top three things that you're going to be working on in the next day. And then what do you do?
You put those things in your deep work time block. Referring back to what we said earlier, we're scheduling our day. So you see you're ending your day in a way that's going to prime you for deep work the following day, so you don't have to wake up thinking about, “well, what should I be doing or engaging with intense focus and working deeply on?” That's already been decided, you decided it the day before.
The final thing that you can be doing to help you better engage in deep work, to help you realize that full potential, to help you not have such a scatter brained approach to your business, your life, your goals, but work with intense focus and ability is to track and measure your minutes of deep work. So what I mean by this is that, let's say that you are writing a book or that you're preparing a presentation or you’re building a report - estimate how many total minutes or hours is going to be required to complete that, and go ahead and start tracking that.
Actually track how many minutes you spend each day engaged in those activities. You'll be shocked when you first do this, because if you're truly picking the activities that matter most, and if you start recording how much time that you're actually spending on them, you might be seeing some shocking stats, like only 30 minutes or an hour, or maybe 90 minutes, two hours. You will not achieve your full potential if you're spending no time engaged deeply on what matters most. So do these things in combination, lots of great ideas here to help you engage in more deep distraction-free, focused work, so that you can be progressing much more quickly in both your business and life and not feel like you don't have enough time for everything. Not feel like you're constantly overwhelmed because you're working with more intense focus, more regularly on what matters most.