Lately, during Zoom meetings, your team is looking more frazzled and fatigued. No surprise since they have more on their plates and more demands on their time. But are they making the best use of that time? You suspect they’ve fallen into poor work habits, jumping from task to task while projects requiring more focus get pushed off to another day—or attempted after normal working hours with tired minds. It’s time to rethink the definition of productivity and help your team make time for deep work like researching, reading, writing, and planning.
Why Deep Work is Necessary
Deep work is a concept popularized by Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It’s the work you do in a state of distraction-free concentration, work that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Deep work puts you into the much-sought-after flow state.
During deep work sessions, you have the focus to be proactive and creative. You’ve experienced this state when you’ve had uninterrupted time to think or strategize. It helps you produce new value and gives meaning to your job. Deep work is your best work.
How Can You Help Your Remote Staff Make Time for Deep Work?
Intuitively, we all know the value of deep work, but it won’t happen on its own. If you want your team to spend more time on deep work, you must lead by example and help them build deep work into their day.
Identify your team’s barriers to deep work
Ask everyone to privately track the time they spend in two weeks on shallow vs. deep work. “Shallow work” is what Newton calls non-demanding, logistical tasks that don’t usually create new value.
After the exercise, discuss with your team the impediments to deep work and how you can overcome these barriers together.
The most common barriers to deep work are:
- Principle of least resistance. People tend to do what’s easiest in the moment—shallow work. These tasks make them feel busy but they’re not truly productive, just satisfying to cross off the list.
- Blurred work/life boundaries. If your staff can’t define boundaries around their working hours, they’ll lose the energy necessary for deep work.
- Distractions. Deep work is impossible if you’re constantly interrupted by emails, messages, notifications, or someone at home needing attention.
- Work rituals. The “way things are done around here” can get in the way of deep work, for example, an excessive number of Zoom meetings, reports, and administrative tasks.
- Expectations. It’s difficult for someone to disappear for a few hours of deep work if co-workers and members expect them to always be available.
Develop protocols for meetings and communication
Create time for deep work by limiting team Zoom meetings to certain days of the week. Streamline meetings by taking a consent agenda approach. Reserve meeting time for discussions and decisions only. Reports and other soliloquies can be delivered via email or the tool of your team’s choice.
Speaking of tools, come to a mutual agreement on the purpose for each communication tool and how you will use it.
Help your staff free up time by encouraging them to batch emails and other communications. For example, ask them to only check their email or Slack four times a day instead of every 20 minutes.
Help your staff create the conditions for deep work at home
Help your team find the best place, time, and tools to increase their focus and productivity when working remotely. For employees without a private home office, consider the options you can offer, perhaps an allowance for noise-blocking headphones or time at a coworking space.
Instruct everyone to schedule deep work blocks
Prioritize deep work. Ask your team to block off an hour a day in advance so they don’t rely on willpower to switch into deep work mode. Deep work must be sacred time.
Acknowledge openly the difficulty you all might have adopting this new way of working. They may feel distracted or bored at first, itching to check their email. But they must resist that temptation. The more they exercise their deep work muscle, the stronger it will become.
Your colleagues, C-suite, and volunteer leaders may admire your deep work approach in theory, but still expect your staff to immediately respond to questions and requests. You’ll have to manage expectations so they don’t infringe on your team’s deep work time.
Help your team set boundaries by blocking off time for deep work on shared calendars. Craft an automatic email reply they can use during deep work sessions. Be ready to defend their time against those who want to encroach upon it. Keep in mind, sometimes the people who are most likely to encroach upon deep work time are the employees themselves.
Approach deep work like a project manager
Hold them accountable. Meet regularly to discuss their deep work accomplishments and reasons for productivity—or lack of it. Document the results so you can prove the value of deep work to those who still don’t get it.
Be a deep work champion for your team
Model the virtual work behavior you wish to encourage. Put deep work on your calendar and respect the blocked time on your staff’s calendars. Don’t make an exception for just one call or email during your deep work block or theirs.
Support good habits with technology
Invest in tools that eliminate the need for shallow work. Find ways for your staff to automate repetitive tasks and simplify routine processes. Sometimes, the best solution is to simply stop doing something.
Our Achurch team has helped many associations create time for deep work by transforming their virtual work culture and operations. Contact us to learn how we can help your organization maximize your employees’ time while working virtually.