Deep Work- The Right Mindset in a Distracted World

“In a world of distraction being able to focus is a huge competitive advantage”

Taylor Otwell (creator of Laravel)

Image of a developer looking at his big screen practicing deep work, focusing in one job at the time

According to best-selling business author Cal Newport and many other field experts, one of the biggest challenges in today’s society is staying focused. Every day, we have countless emails, Slack messages, Whatsapp, Jira tickets, tweets, notifications, the list goes on…

We need a to-do list to process our to-do lists; we need a break to process all of that information. There is a common misconception about multitasking: we think it’s efficient to do a lot of tasks at the same time; in reality, we are delivering ordinary or sub-par results. Working individuals need to go deeper to achieve notable outcomes, and deep concentration is the key to create new values and improve skills.

Before engaging with how to best perform “deep work” as a team, we spent about 60% of our time doing shallow and ordinary work. Now, we’ve examined the problems of shallow work, and created processes that encourage deeply focused, highly effective work here at Nolte. Read on to learn more about how to instill this focus within yourself or your team.

What is Shallow Work?

Shallow Work put simply, is distracted work. According to Evernote’s blog, we unlock our iPhones an average of 80 times daily and rack up more than 4.7 hours actively engaged with our mobile devices or instant messaging apps each day.

When we check our emails and instant messaging apps every minute, we experience a fear of missing out, or “FOMO” as the kids call it. This illustration of FOMO helps me and our team, remember to let go of the constant demands of being “plugged in” 24/7. Let go of the FOMO, and embrace experiencing the moment you’re in, which will allow you to work, play, and live more productively— plus, you’ll enjoy yourself more.

“Non Cognitively demanding, logical-style tasks, are often performed while distracted. Their efforts tend to no create much new value in the world because they are easy to replicate.” – Carl Newport.

Rules to Deep Work

From experience working at Nolte, I’ve come up with a set of rules to practice deep work when we’re doing our projects:

1. Use network communications wisely.

According to Newport’s book, if we stop an important task to attend to some other task, we could need about 20 minutes to recover our full concentration in the main task. If we stop every five minutes because we get a new push notification, email, or ping, we will produce only ordinary results for our customers, bringing back the shallow work practice.

When you are trying to create new value, and want to accomplish something or improve your results in your current job:

  • Avoid instant message applications
  • Put your phone in no-disturb/night/sleep mode, and
  • Disable distracting mobile phone notifications
  • Try to go deep with your full attention at least for 25 minutes with NO interruptions. Need some help to practice this? Try the Pomodoro Technique.

If you still can’t focus, then you can try something that has helped me with focus. It’s an innovative interactive game called Forest App. The less you use your phone, the more the app rewards you, through the visual tool of planting and growing trees in a forest. It’s a great starting point for people who find their phones addicting, and it’s helped me in my professional journey.

2. Avoid multitasking when possible

When you try to do two or more different things at the same time you are going to discover the fraud that is the multitasking approach; certainly, you can simulate “good” progress in your duties, but you are not delivering the best quality that you could deliver if you go deep. There are quite a few apps that give you the option to go full screen or offer you a “distraction-free” mode. Utilizing these tricks and tools, when available, is a great way to foster focused working, and great idea development.

At Nolte, we use Jira Boards to assign tasks for every person in the company. It’s not a surprise that the best practices of the Agile methodology suggest that you should only have one task in the “in progress” column because, think about it— our minds are not designed to multitask. We have might have two eyes and two hands, but we only have one brain to process what we are doing. By working on one thing at a time, we can create more opportunities for deep work as a team.

As Newport said, to remain valuable in our global economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.

Conclusion

Digital tools are getting more complex day by day and it’s hard to follow their pace. However, this is something we must keep learning and practicing. Only then, we’ll be able to use new, advanced tools to their full potential. So keep learning, keep doing complex things, cultivate the power of concentration and you will be rewarded with new discoveries every day about your job and your capacities.

At Nolte, we trust in our team and its capabilities to choose the right time to go deep, and we enjoy the results of this process: delivering meaningful and unique products to our clients.

So, what is more important to you? Your team’s goals and aspirations, or the meme messaging on your Whatsapp group? Remember, the goal of deep focus is not to ignore every opportunity to communicate, but to choose the right time to do it. Give yourself time to do both, and you’ll find you need to do them simultaneously will disappear.


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