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Busyness and the Importance of Deep Work

Lately our team at Collective Results has been discussing the importance of having time to think and engage in deep work. Our conversations have emerged in response to our observations about the culture of busyness that seems to have taken hold in the sectors that we support in our role as consultants. Individuals working in the public and not-for-profit sectors have always been busy but this seems to have leaped into overdrive during the pandemic. With the ease of virtual meetings we are regularly working with clients that literally sit in back-to-back meetings all day, every day. We sometimes get caught up in this as well depending on our projects underway.

In thinking more about this, we came across this really interesting podcast about the value of ‘deep work’ in the age of distraction. Within this podcast, there are many great questions that we can ask ourselves as we think more about the concept of and the importance of ‘deep work’. Unfortunately, it is easy to get caught in the rut of focusing on short-term activities vs. long term thinking and favouring the trivial immediate term activities such as email and other daily tasks vs. the deep thinking that will support us meaningfully engaging in our work. Within the podcast they speak to how busyness is often used as a proxy measure for productivity. This really resonated with us and leads to some interesting thinking about the concept of measuring productivity in the knowledge economy.

We wanted to explore this concept on our blog to start a conversation about tips and tricks that you use to engage in deep work. Liz and Michi share some insight into their recent experiences with deep work.

Liz: I absolutely love when I have the time to engage in deep work. I block time in my calendar for focused time. For me, the “sweet spot” is for these focused time blocks to be 2 hours in length. I’m getting better at reducing distractions during these blocks of time (e.g., I leave my phone in a different room, I shut down email and other messaging programs on my computer). This thinking time allows me to put in writing many thoughts and ideas that have been swirling in my head, make connections, pull ideas together and engage in critical thinking. From my perspective, it is the time element of deep work that is most valuable. Time allows for more creative thinking, for more pieces to be put on the board, for complicating what had seemed simple and simplifying what seemed complex. I strive for at least one block of time to engage in deep work every week. Have you ever gone into a meeting where you wondered if the outcome would have been different if all or some of the attendees had the time to engage in deep work prior to attending? I think that we are better equipped to make informed decisions and that we are able to work better together if we intentionally take the time to engage in deep work. What do you think?

Michi: Did you know that switching from one task to another, as in “I’m just going to check my email for a second” and then switching back to your original task causes your cognitive performance on that original task to decrease for a period of time? Have you ever tracked the number of times you switch tasks like this in a given day? Imagine how much productive time could be gained in a day, a week, a year by intentionally giving your full attention to a single task for a protected period of time. But, where to begin? Start by thinking about how much time you should be spending in “deep work” versus “shallow work” (e.g., reading and answering emails or messages, scheduling meetings, etc.) given the nature of your work. Then, structure your time accordingly. It may take some time to build up to it and may require some conversations with work colleagues around expectations for communication response times. But, ultimately you may find yourself doing more in less time and enjoying the feeling of being productive at the end of your work day.

Do you find your work more satisfying when you are engaged in deep work? Does being engaged in deep work make you happier? Is there a location you go to when you want to think deeply? Tell us what tips and tricks you use for engaging in deep work!

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