There’s work, and then there’s deep work.
We’ve all engaged in deep work at some point — it’s that experience when you’re on a roll. Deep work makes a task more enjoyable as everything else melts away.
Unfortunately, deep work is also an increasingly rare experience in the age of computers and mobile phones. According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, constant interruption is more of a problem than we’d like to admit.
As an NPR feature on his work put it:
By letting email and other messages guide our workday, Cal says we're weakening our ability to do the most challenging kinds of work—what he calls "deep work." Deep work requires sustained attention, whether the task is writing marketing copy or solving a tricky engineering problem.
If you’re an employer on a mission to make your company a great place to work, facilitating deep work is a free and effective way to make that happen.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to make space for your employees to focus and increase productivity.
5 Ways to Encourage Employee Focus
1. Cut Some Slack on Slack
Slack is one of the most useful tools in the modern workplace — it helps facilitate rapid communication and eliminates some of the annoying aspects of email. Of course, any great piece of technology has its downfalls.
Slack can also create distractions and continually shuffle people’s priorities around when someone is asking them for a task or favor right away.
To minimize those downsides, cut some slack for your employees if they don’t respond to your messages immediately. Or, let them know that they can close their Slack app for an hour or two if there’s something they really need to focus on.
Having that permission from an employer or team lead could be enough to encourage deep work, and higher quality results.
Related article: Boost Employee Productivity With These 6 Slack Features
2. Have No-Meeting Fridays
Meetings are an inevitable part of office life. When done right, they have the power to facilitate great brainstorms, move projects along, or keep communication lines open.
But many employees fall into the trap of having back-to-back meetings throughout the day, or even staggered meetings that leave little time for quality work in between. So, how can you keep your employees on track while keeping necessary meetings intact?
Some companies have mandated no-meeting days, which encourage a full day for employees to engage in deep work. If that’s too much of a stretch, consider implementing a half-day block for your team on a day that works best for them.
At Justworks, the marketing team blocks off every Friday morning so team members can focus on the larger tasks at hand. We can come into the office, work from home, or go to a coffee shop. The free space is a breath of fresh air, and it helps us move those projects along that everyone’s meeting about in the first place.
3. Get a Micro-Yes for Impromptu Chats
If your employee is in a deep state of work, he might be caught off guard by colleagues who are asking questions or starting impromptu chats.
That level of collaboration can be beneficial for team-building, but it can also be a distraction from getting quality work done.
Download your toolkit for hundreds of ideas to make your employees happy.
One way to prevent the distraction? LifeLabs Learning, a company that provides training courses based on scientific and psychological research, says that getting a “micro-yes” can help.
For example, if you’d like to provide feedback on your employee’s report face-to-face, you can Slack or email him and say, “I’d like to chat about the report you sent me. Do you have 10 minutes to talk today?”
LifeLabs suggests being specific about the amount of time it will take, and to mention the topic at hand. That way, you can get a buy-in from your employee — and if he’s in a deep state of work, he can get back to you at an optimal time.
Related article: How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Colleagues
4. Find Out People’s Prime Working Hours
Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, everyone has different work hours that are most optimal for them.
Find out when your employees work best, and see if you can schedule meetings around those time frames.
Granted, the typical workday usually offers time constraints between about 9am and 6pm — but even within those hours, different employees have different hours when they get their best work done.
For example, my manager asked about my prime time for focus and found out I write best in the early afternoon. She switched around our weekly one-on-one to the late morning, and now I have an afternoon block that helps me dive into a deep state of work.
5. Block Out Work Times
And on the subject of work blocks — encouraging your employees to block out work times will help them focus deeply on the task at hand. Employees can make these blocks recurring on their calendar, or create specific ones by week.
Putting details on the calendar block can help, too. For example, encouraging your employee to block out an hour for analytics review and another two hours to create that presentation due next week will likely prevent her colleagues from scheduling over a specific project or task.
There are many steps you can take as an employer to make an unforgettable place to work. Giving your employees the time and space to do deep work will increase productivity and benefit everyone involved.
Psst...want to learn even more about deep work? You can check out a podcast on it below.