How to Find Time to Focus
Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights
Deep work means working intensely for a fixed period of time. Simple. But when was the last time you actually managed to find the time to work deeply? Whether you work in an office or you’re a lone worker we all seem to face the same challenge: how do you find time to focus?
The difference between focus time and deep work
Deep work is all about maximising your intensity of focus. If you can work intensely for 30 minutes it beats working for two hours with constant interruptions. Quality beats quantity.
Focus time is the chunk of time you allocate in your calendar to working intensely (deeply).
The two elements are linked. Deep work needs to have time dedicated to it and focus time is not focus time if you don’t work intensely when you do it. You could mark out a chunk of focus time in your calendar but if you don’t actually work deeply during that chunk then it’s just been time wasted.
Don’t be. Just remember that if you want to work intensely you’ll need to dedicate some time to do that. Deep work is the action but time is the tool that will help you achieve deep work.
Reduce task switching
In most professional roles we constantly switch between shallow work (emails, calls) and deep work (coming up with ideas, big thinking, problem solving). Every time we switch it takes around 40 minutes to get into full focus mode.
Eliminate the time lost through task switching by grouping your tasks by type. Plan to carry out your shallow work tasks in one go and do the same with your deep work tasks.
Create the right environment for deep work
Your environment plays a significant part in how you feel – both consciously and subconsciously. If you can identify and then create the conditions that enable you to thrive then you’ll be in a good position to work deeply during your focus time.
Start by working out what your biological prime time is i.e. the time of day when you are most alert and wont get distracted. For me, it’s during the morning. If I don’t get my deep work done before 12pm I’m highly unlikely to get it completed that day. I chunk up my working days into two halves. The morning is set aside for deep work and the afternoon is for shallow work.
Once you’ve identified the time of day that works best for you it’s time to think about your physical environment:
Buy some headphones – use them to be laser focused on the task in hand. I find long playlists of instrumental music work well because my mind can’t get lost in lyrics. Check out website like brain.fm for sources of music to help you focus.
Clean up your laptop – only install the apps you need on each hardware tool. For example, if you only use your iPad for leisure don’t install anything work related on it. Then turn off all notifications and only keep the applications open that you are using – ideally just one.
Assign workspaces to tasks – use different environments for different tasks. You could use: the library for all deep work, a café for emails, your home office for calls and the office for meetings. Creating this habit drives focus and motivation too.
How long to spend on deep work
I’ve mentioned the Pomodoro technique in previous blogs and it’s still the only way I can work productively.
The technique works like this: set a timer and work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. That’s one pomodoro. Complete four pomodoros then take a 15-20 minute break.
Working in this way focuses your mind because you have a short deadline to hit with a reward of a five-minute break at the end. It also creates pace and rhythm to your working day.
Working in this way will allow you to work deeply for around three to four hours per day.
The importance of purpose (or knowing your ‘why’)
You might have a passion for marketing but what’s your real purpose for working in the industry? Maybe you want to help people improve their wellbeing by working for companies who focus on health provision or maybe you feel strongly that everyone should be a lifelong learner and work for companies who provide education.
Finding your purpose (why) will help you on the days when the going gets tough and you’re struggling to motivate yourself to get stuck into work. When you don’t have a deeper sense of knowing why you do what you do you will invariably become distracted and lose focus.
How to create focus time in a corporate environment
Being able to work deeply in a typical corporate environment can be hard, especially if you work in an open plan office where a culture of interruptions and distractions is the norm.
However, you shouldn’t let that put you off leading the way in working productively in your own company.
Take a look at your current role and write down the most valuable tasks you. Agree those tasks with your line manager and then guard and log the time you dedicate to working on those valuable tasks.
Flag up distractions to your line manager as they arise (the things that are stopping you spending time on your valuable tasks) so they can support you in spending time working deeply more often.
When done well this approach will help you and your company be the most productive it can be. It will also clearly demonstrate what you do and the value you provide, making sure you say on the focus track.
If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.
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