Deep Work: Prioritizing Work That Matters

Fascinated by habits and patterns, I started to observe and pay attention to find value in my day-to-day activities — the ones we always do but don’t think about as much.

Little did I know, the practices that I brought into my work over the past few years have been researched and proven techniques in Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. It brought joy to know that I’ve been taking the right steps toward a meaningful career and to remove “busyness” from my work dictionary.

This is a good place to be — to know what your day is worth and focus on the one thing you must do to call it successful. One day at a time, one mindful moment and a step in the right direction.

How many times have I looked back at the end of the year and wondered, where did the time go? Too often. That’s why I decided to change my workplace routines and habits.

This type of change doesn’t happen overnight, and we cannot change all of our habits at once. It’s one change at a time. That’s the most powerful advice I gained from reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Being goal-driven has always helped, so I set personal objectives and key results (OKRs) to accomplish the important things and do meaningful work. I started with a question:

“What can I do to change my today into a better tomorrow?”

This shouldn’t be about being better than someone else. It should be about a better you.

Here are a few steps I follow:

1. Fixed Productivity Schedule

If it’s not on my calendar, then it doesn’t exist.

Some folks say that I am very organized. But the truth is, I need clarity of my schedule before the day starts. When meetings get added last minute, it doesn’t help. It actually adds to my stress and anxiety. So, being proactive and planning ahead is key. With my 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. work schedule, I know this time is sacred and I will prioritize what needs to be delivered effectively.

Previously, I was good at giving away my evenings and nights, as well as weekends to work. It didn’t help because I was always catching up. Then it struck me that work will always be there. We should learn to protect our personal time and be meticulous about what work gets done during the workday. Not everything is urgent and important at the same time.

2. Deep Work

Do one thing well, and do it with focus and commitment. That’s the recipe for success, in my view.

I always thought multitasking was the best option until it started to have diminishing returns. I was neither here nor there. I would be in a meeting and trying to answer emails or messages at the same time. Now, I think that’s disrespectful in some ways. Either don’t join the meeting or give it your full attention. This has helped me to filter out status meetings that might not be a good use of time.

Making sure I block off deep work time in the morning when my mind is fresh has been crucial. I block off a couple of hours every day as “focus time.” This helps to create a continuous block of time for thinking. Distractions must be avoided, and there are options in messaging apps to change your status for others to see, such as “Focus Mode” or “Do Not Disturb.”

3. Walk To Remember

These days, it’s easy to blur the lines between day and night in front of your laptop, especially in the winter months when you don’t get outside as much. Walking for an hour after lunch has become my time to connect with nature and breathe crisp, fresh air.

This time outdoors can help to clear your mind and become open to new ideas. Sometimes, when I am working on a project, a walk can give me new perspectives. This clarity is key to delivering quality work in a time-sensitive schedule.

4. Notifications

My day used to be decided by constant pings and notifications — until I decided to do something about it. I used to check email, messaging and social media apps often and was addicted to the quick rewards. I became purposeful about which apps are on my phone: no work or social media apps. I thought I needed to be on 24/7 until I realized I didn’t. I have more time now to read and learn than I have in the past 10 years.

Multitasking and distractions don’t help. It’s time to draw the line and set a discipline. I have 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon set aside for emails. Sometimes, I will have someone email me and then send a message asking me to reply to the email. This breaks the flow of thought, and it can be difficult to get back into the rhythm. Removing social media and messaging apps from your phone can give you time to focus on what matters.

5. No Meeting Wednesdays

I block off Wednesdays to focus, think, learn and read. If we are constantly in reaction mode, there is little innovation or creativity. This day is meant to foster deep meaningful work, which cannot be completed in sporadic short breaks between meetings.

I haven’t been as effective with this in my new role, but I haven’t given up yet. As long as I don’t add a meeting on Wednesday, it’s a step in the right direction. To work toward this goal in your own role, inform those you work with that a meeting on Wednesdays (or another chosen day of the week) is an exception, not the norm.

When was the last time you had uninterrupted time for deep, meaningful work? Take a step toward change. We can all evolve our habits, one step at a time and one action at a time, to create a more productive work style.

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