Deep work is a concept that has existed since humankind has organized into societal units, if not before then. The idea is simple: the human mind is most productive when it can have long stretches of time to work on “big picture” problems without interruption. That is, the time that we can focus on the big issues and tasks that require sustained concentration. Some like to think of deep thinking of “being in the zone”–a highly productive time when you are oblivious to distractions.
For a small business owner, this might include time to work on business strategy or planning; doing accounting or taxes, writing a proposal or employee manual; reading about innovations or new business opportunities or just working out troublesome areas of the business without distractions.
Deep thinking is not: making Facebook posts, cleaning the office, sitting in meetings, multi-tasking (read a magazine while watching TV while eating dinner and talking to ones partner). It’s not texting while on the treadmill.
There are three keys to deep work: 1) mental isolation from distractions, 2) physical isolation from distractions, 3) a dedicated time to focus.
Mental Isolation from Distractions
We can only best focus our attention when we have a singular item on which to concentrate. I find I am least able to do deep work when I am multi-tasking. The other day I was trying to read a book, run the robo vacuum, do laundry and bake some rolls. In that hour, I heard beeps, buzzes and whirls every few minutes. There was no chance to effectively read and consider what I had read.
Here are a few tips to get into the right mindset for deep work:
- Use the first hour or two of every day for deep work. I like to get to the office around 6-6:30 in the morning, and, without even turning on my computer or looking at the mail or phone messages, I try get an hour or two of business reading done.
- Deal with the “elephant in the room”, the big things that will prevent you from focusing. If I have an important client issue to deal with, one that keeps me awake at night, there is no way I can get into a deep thinking mode until I have dealt with that issue.
- Spend some time exercising before you begin your deep work. I love to spent an hour or two doing heavy yard work before my scheduled deep work. Walking the dog or going for a hike are also ways for me to clear my mind and tire my body a bit before my deep work time.
Physical Isolation from Distractions
Let’s face it, we live in a work where we are just a arm’s reach away from distraction: smart phone, tablets and remote controls. The phone rings and our cell phones give us a beep or buzz when there is a new post, text message or email. There is always something more immediately satisfying than doing what we should and need to be doing.
Here are a few ways I like to physically isolate myself from distractions:
- The easy one: separate yourself from you phone, tablet, computer or phone. I keep mine in another room or leave them in my backpack.
- Use a call blocker. We have installed a call blocker at Kona Impact, which if it works properly will allow us to block a lot of the robo calls and unsolicited sales calls.
- Noise canceling headphones. I bought a pair of high end wireless noise canceling headphones a few weeks ago. They are a great investment for getting focused and avoiding distractions. I can’t hear the phone ring, or any environmental noises with these headphones. With some light classical music and these headphones, I can get into the zone quickly and stay there for a long time.
Dedicated Time to Focus
I schedule a time every day—usually 5am-7am when my daughter is in school and 5:30am to 7:30am when she’s not to work on my important but not urgent issues. The important and urgent are things best done during business hours, as they often require colleagues and interaction with suppliers and clients. These two hours, when everyone is asleep and the phone does not right are my time for deep work. I try to not look at email or text messages before I begin my deep work, lest I become mentally unfocused on preoccupied.
Another time I love is weekend mornings This is a great time to go to the lanai and just read or focus on big issues. On most weekends I can finish at least one book and have a few hours planning and focusing on big issues. Again, the key is to become mentally and physically isolated, so no cell phones, tablets or multi-tasking.