Poor productivity can put a strain on your company. With deep work strategies, your teams can overcome workplace distractions.

Are your teams working as efficiently as possible? Are you getting the best value and speed-to-market?

In today’s digitally-driven workplace, distractions are an employee’s kryptonite. Email, cell phones, and social media inhibit workers daily from reaching their full potential.

These kinds of distractions can bring even the strongest, most dedicated employees down, and keep them from completing their best work.

How Digital Distractions Impact the Workplace

Do you know, according to “Deep Work” by Cal Newport:

  • The average knowledge worker checks email at least 75 times a day
  • They spend 60 percent of a workweek engaged in electronic communication and internet searching
  • 30 percent of their work time is dedicated to checking and reading emails alone

This means the average knowledge worker is either working only 25 hours a week or is (most likely) working a lot of overtime to get work completed, and also find time to respond to work related emails.

Email isn’t the only thing killing productivity — distractions of all kinds pose a certain risk. It takes about 23 minutes for the average worker to get into a productive state, which can be sustained for several hours without a break.

However, just one brief distraction can completely destroy this productive state. On average, employees are interrupted once every three minutes, and a total of 400 times a day, by stopping to take a phone call, chat with a coworker who has stopped to say hello, incoming text message, etc.

Small distractions like a Facebook notification or a Slack message may seem exactly that – trivial and insignificant. However, they ultimately cost businesses a lot – around 28 billion wasted hours and $650 billion a year, in fact. And for the U.S. economy, that all together accounts for a $1 trillion loss.

So how do we overcome the evil of workplace distractions and get our best work done?

Introduction to Deep Work

Fortunately, you don’t need to be bitten by a radioactive spider or be born on Krypton to rescue the workplace from certain destruction. “Deep Work” – a term coined by Cal Newport in his book of the same name – is the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks. It’s a common practice that is here to save the day.

Seen as a modern-day super power, Deep Work allows a practitioner to thrive in the new economy by helping them master hard things, and produce at an elite level in terms of both quality and speed.

But in a society plagued with distraction, how does one master Deep Work and unleash their professional super power? Here are five ways:

#1 – Measure Where You Are:

Determine the habits that you need to break. You can do this easily by measuring where you spend your time and how you communicate.

Time management software like RescueTime logs the hours you spend on different work activities (such as Software Development or Business), highlighting the areas where you might need to put in less, or more time. It also tracks the amount of time you spend checking email, how many emails you receive, or send, on a given day, and what time of day you are most active on email.

Using these metrics, you can structure your day to maximize “deep work” time. Try to only check and send emails once or twice a day, during the times when you tend to be most active on email. Devote the rest of the day to tasks that don’t involve as much communication or scheduling.

# 2 – Reduce the Number of “In-Process” Items:

Everyone has a running list of to-do’s that always seems to get longer before it gets shorter. Cross at least one thing off your list before you add another. This will reduce stress significantly down the line.

#3 – Use Time Locks:

Calendars aren’t just for meetings and appointments. Go “heads down” by carving out chunks of time for both work and learning on your calendar. This keeps your calendar from getting bogged down by meeting invites and offers you time that you can devote fully to undistracted work. And by putting learning on your calendar, it motivates you to take on new challenges and try new things you put off in the past because you always said you simply didn’t have the time.

#4 – Fix the Context Switch:

Time is the most important limited resource you have, so you must protect it. Do this by only doing one thing at a time. Also ensure you won’t be interrupted by putting on headphones or leaving your office for a quiet workplace like a conference room or library.

#5 – Manage Communication Channels:

During your Deep Work time, set reasonable goals for what you want to accomplish. Tell your coworkers that you will not be attentive to email for the next several hours, and do not check it. Resist the urge to check social media. Leave your phone on “do not disturb” mode so you won’t hear phone calls unless they are made twice in a row. Once in the deep work mindset, you will likely forget your phone is even there, unless there is an emergency.

In addition, train your supervisors and colleagues on your communication policy. Tell them when you may be unresponsive or tied up, and when they can expect you to resurface. They should be mindful and respectful of your work time as long as all urgent needs are met.

Go Deep to Overcome Distractions

Inefficiency and poor productivity are bad for everyone. They are unhealthy for you, economically wasteful to your company, and can put a strain on your company’s limited resources.

But with deep work strategies, good focus can overcome the evil of distractions.

Deep Work at Columbus Software Development and Innovation Studio 

Our Story: How Centric Applied Deep Work

Shortly after learning about – and buying into – the concept of Deep Work, we decided to use what we learned to help our clients.

When an organization is hiring a consulting partner, value for fees and speed-to-market are important metrics to consider. With that in mind, we put the concept to work, measuring our custom software developers’ “hands-on-keyboard” time. What we learned was surprising and drove us to take immediate action.

The mission then became creating an environment where our teams can minimize distraction to solve our clients’ most complex problems, as cost-effective and efficiently as possible.

Our solution…we stood up the Centric Software Development and Innovation Studio; a collaborative, fully agile and fun space, free of the everyday noise found in a conventional workspace. By applying Deep Work techniques and implementing a standardized set of workplace guidelines that vastly reduce daily distractions, our teams are able to focus on what they like to do best: build custom software solutions for clients.

This translates into significantly richer, robust solutions delivered to our clients faster, better and cheaper. We believe the adoption of “Deep Work” is transformational and essential for optimum success in the modern work environment.

The Deep Work practices above have transformed the way we build custom software solutions, developing a team that’s ready to take on any project that comes their way.

Go Further

  • Interested in learning more about how our innovative, deep-work driven team goes to work for clients? Want to see our teams in action? Contact us: Gina Heffner, Columbus Practice Vice President, or Shawn Wallace, Columbus Chief Architect.

About the Author

Shawn Wallace is a Senior Architect in Columbus. He’s also a National Practice Lead in Custom Development, Application Lifecycle Management. Shawn has a record of successful development and implementation of large-scale, line-of-business and “software as a service” applications. Follow Shawn on Twitter.