Once you leave school, your learning has only just begun. This time, though, you don’t have assigned books- you need to find your own. I might have one for you.
While I read quite a bit of fiction, I also enjoy business books, particularly those that focus on individual and team performances. As a leader in a thought industry, I find the hardest thing to accomplish is how to measure an individual’s performance and what an organization can do to continuously support improvement.
Focus Is Key
Generally, a very small number of top performers exist within a company. The challenge many employees face is not only getting stuff done but knowing what the right stuff to do is. Often, the largest limiter in this scenario is the frequency at which people are distracted.
Think of it this way: if the clear majority of staff within an organization can routinely perform at a slightly higher level each year, they would tremendously shift the learning curve and be much farther along in three or more years, compared to the current path they’re on.
Having focused time will not only help individuals achieve their goals, but also provide the clarity to foresee what the next right thing to work on would be. In an organization like ours, I believe just getting those two things right would often help improve productivity by as much as fifty percent.
This concept of sustaining extremely high levels of performance may seem tiring and impossible to maintain but we should look at it differently. The goal is not to perform at one hundred percent all the time (you would likely wear yourself out and you should have an extra “gear” for critical moments). You need to think about it as you should stop running at ten percent of your productivity for long periods of time.
Cal Newport and Deep Work
One of the best books that I have read, that truly applies to knowledge-based industries, is Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a professor of Computer Science whose insights did not originate from primarily studying his profession. Instead, he derived his training regimen from his own personal efforts to produce within his career.
Newport’s key takeaway is to practice staying focused on what you want to focus on; this is a muscle you need to build and strengthen. The reality is, you are probably quite bad at this- don’t worry, we almost all are. You cannot just sit down and automatically focus on your work. The first step you can take is to keep within Newport’s rules is to figure out how to stay focused.
This involves having the right tools and environment to ensure that you can accomplish what you are trying to set out to do. Schedule your day based on the type of work you need to complete, but structure and defend it to ensure that those around you are supportive of your techniques.
Developers should try to block off periods of intense work (complex coding or algorithms need to have many variables within your mind), as any distraction will cause them to lose focus and cost them anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes getting back to where they originally started.
The second step is to remove the two largest distraction culprits: the computer and the phone. Turn off your alerts. If you have critical family emergencies, many of the mobile OS’s have the ability to break through while everything else is muted. If you let everyone know that this is your process and that you will get back to them at various other times of the day, they will understand.
Practice and Keep Getting Better At It
Email is a massive thief of time, especially if you work with others who have bad reply etiquette. Even if you work in a position that needs to be connected at all times, i.e. high transaction oriented positions, technical support, or something of a similar nature, you still need to set aside focused time to do that job well.
Amongst all the noise and distractions that surround you, create your own ideal environment to generate productive work. While the company can help you, you need to find what works best for you and create the environment in which you can thrive.
Lastly, when you take a break, actually take a break. Get up, move around, go for a walk, get some air, do anything. Do not just sit and do mindless work at your desk- this will make it difficult to get back to focused work later.
What has your organization done to encourage your own form of Deep Work? How can you restructure your day to have more time consumed solely doing the key things you need to get done?