How a Culture of Deep Work Can Help Boost Employee Productivity

Imagine this scenario: You’re working on an important project; you’re about to finish when something or someone distracts you. Maybe you got an email or a phone call. Maybe an employee asks for help with another task. Or maybe you just couldn’t resist going onto social media.

Whatever it is, you’re now distracted. It’ll likely take you at least 20 minutes to get back to work.

Sounds familiar? As a manager, you’re probably used to these interruptions. Dealing with issues as they arise is part of the job description.

But here’s the thing: workplace disruptions don’t just affect managers.

An average office worker switches between tasks or is interrupted every three minutes and five seconds. When added up, these interruptions can lead to 28 billion wasted hours a year.

Is there anything to be done? Turns out, there is.

While it might not be possible to eliminate all workplace distractions, it is possible to get your employees to stop focusing so much on boring tasks — and start focusing on deep work.

Ready to learn about a strategy that might just help your employees get out of a productivity slump?

Deep Work vs. Shallow Work

The concept of deep work first made waves on the internet in 2012, when Cal Newport, a writer and computer science professor at Georgetown University, wrote about it in a blog post. He expanded on the topic four years later, in 2016, in his book, “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.”

So, what is deep work?

According to Newport, it’s any “professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

The opposite of deep work is “shallow work.”

Newport defines shallow work as “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

In other words, shallow work is any task that doesn’t require your undivided attention. Most administrative tasks, such as answering emails or calls, can be classed as shallow work.

Deep work, on the other hand, is any task that makes a difference — and therefore requires total concentration. Researching, analyzing quality improvement data, or creating a new course to teach are all examples of deep work.

Here’s How You Can Encourage Deep Work In Your Workplace

You might be in charge of a high-performing team. But if they spend the majority of their time compiling reports, organizing customer care tickets, and crafting invoice reminders, then they’re probably not getting to the work you actually need them to be doing.

Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there that can remove busywork and help people achieve actual productivity.

Automate “shallow work”

By automating mundane, repetitive tasks, you can free up your employees’ time so that they can focus on more valuable work — and save money in the process.

And there’s a lot of money to be saved, too. According to one study, office workers dedicate about 69 days a year globally on repetitive tasks, which costs companies globally around $5 trillion per year.

Automated solutions can help organizations streamline data entry, customers support interactions, data analysis, invoice processing workflows, expense management, accounting and reconciliations.

From a company’s point of view, the benefits of automating simple work tasks are obvious. But employees don’t want to waste their time on monotonous tasks any more than you do.

When asked what they would do if they could get back the time spent on administrative tasks, more than 70% of workers said that they would focus on work that is more valuable for the organization.

Reduce distractions by using a headless CMS

Speaking of automating shallow work — if your marketing team is bogged down by all the work they have to do, consider switching to a headless CMS.

A headless CMS can help marketers deliver content at scale.

Just think about it. Today’s customers interact with your brand via a wide variety of different touchpoints. Unfortunately, this often makes content distribution a challenge.

Many marketers create content centrally and then add it to each channel manually.

They could, of course, distribute content to other channels using a traditional content management system. But because most content is created with the website in mind, that would require reformatting it (read: performing shallow work) to fit the nature of every channel.

A headless CMS lets marketers add content without having to worry about things like templates and plugins. Marketers can update content once and publish it everywhere. With a headless CMS, there’s practically no risk that content will go out of sync on various channels.

Schedule “flows” via an online calendar

Carving out time for deep work can be a challenge, especially in an office environment.

According to one study, 99% of workers in open-plan offices are distracted “at least some of the time.” And 40% report being “always or sometimes” distracted. Plus, nearly 50% claim that they can’t focus while at work.

So, what’s distracting workers?

It’s not social media. Nor is it email (although that’s pretty distracting, too, but more on that later). The main culprit is other workers.

Whether it’s staff chatting among themselves or talking loudly to someone else on the phone, these distractions can cost your employees a ton of time.

One thing you can do to help your workers concentrate on important projects is to encourage them to block out deep work times on a shared calendar.

Employees can either make these blocks recurring or else create new ones every week or day. For example, if a worker blocks out two hours to work on a presentation, others will know not to pester them with unnecessary questions and updates.

Set a rule that everyone has at least one deep work block (of at least two hours) each day.

Make it clear that during deep work time, no one is to be interrupted — unless there’s an emergency.

Stay accountable with timekeeping tools

Focusing intently on a single task isn’t easy. Like most things in life, deep work requires practice. A time tracking app can help your employees stay accountable during deep work sessions.

By setting a timer, workers can see exactly how much time has passed since they started working on a particular assignment. What feels like an hour might turn out to be just 20 minutes — and will motivate them to keep going.

A timer will also serve as a reminder that the next hour or two should be dedicated to a particular task, not answering emails or talking about the upcoming meeting.

Some time management tools can track employee time automatically, which means that they don’t even have to remember to turn on the timer. Others can track offline activity, like phone calls.

Additionally, some tools can categorize websites as either productive or distracting, highlighting positive habits and areas for improvement.

By using a time management app, employees can see exactly how much deep work they achieve every day.

Reduce email volume with email management and collaborative workspace tools

Did you know that an average knowledge worker checks in with communication tools like email every six minutes? It’s no wonder, then, that many employees spend more than five hours a day in their inbox (both work and personal).

Knowing this, it might be a good idea to implement the use of email management tools. These are useful in that they can “snooze” all incoming emails when you’re “in the zone.”

Most email management tools also let you schedule emails to send at a later time.

If your team communicates primarily via email, the number of messages sent back and forth between employees might leave everyone feeling swamped. In this case, a collaborative workspace tool might come in handy in keeping all content organized in one place so that email updates become unnecessary.

Deep Work: It’s a Rare But Valuable Skill

The ability to stay focused in an increasingly distracted world is a skill that most employees seem to lack. In one study, only 26%  of employees said that by the end of a typical workday, they feel like they’ve accomplished the tasks on their to-do list. The rest confided that the days seem to fly by, and they’re often left wondering, “did I accomplish anything today?”

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your employees work efficiently. Promoting a culture of deep work might just be the easiest way to motivate your employees to work smarter, not harder. Remember that all employees will benefit from a work environment where everyone thrives — and that there are tools to help you get there faster.

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Laura Martisiute
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