I recently came across a book called Deep work (by Cal Newport), whose main message I truly identified with. Our world is increasingly distracting our ability to focus and hence our productivity (and mental wellbeing) suffers. It is time to put the disruptions to sleep, and get some work done.
Simplistically, there are three types of work activities / jobs. In the first type, the work requires continuous focus and actively using your intellectual capacity for a longer period of time (e.g. reading a report or preparing a presentation). Second, the work consists of multiple short interactions or ‘disruptions’ (think of a busy afternoon with meetings/calls scheduled for every 15-30 minutes). Third, activity which does not require lot of mental capacity, and is either physical (e.g. sorting papers) or monotonous/mundane (e.g. building the same financial model for the 100th time in a row).
Your profession and your day schedule may include all of these types of work, often in different proportions. The key for a productive day is to be able to separate them to achieve uninterrupted focus when you need it, while being accessible to others and getting all the other stuff done.
The biggest challenge I have faced was finding 2-3 hours of quiet time for focused work. People stop by in the office, phone rings, emails keep coming, senior team members / external stakeholders ask for last-minute meetings, etc. The only time to get ‘real’ work done was after 7pm, when the constant inflow of distractions started fading away. Only recently, I tried to move things around, and blocked 3-hour blocks in my calendar every morning, when I turn off my phone, stop/exit email, and keep my calendar clear. My assistant knows that only requests from direct boss(es) can interrupt the sacred window. This is my most productive time of the day, and I work hard to keep it as free as possible. The other benefit is that these high-value-add/focus activities often require input/review from someone else, so the earlier in the day I get them out, the sooner I can get a response and move on.
What about the other two work types? For the short calls/meetings, I like to schedule them in batches – e.g. have 3 hours in the afternoon, when I schedule all calls/meetings right one after the other, and fill any spare minutes with quick email responses. I keep these ‘distractions’ grouped together, so they are distracting less. And the monotonous / mundane work? That’s for the evenings when my thinking capacity starts slowing down, or for long and boring conference calls during the day, when even I can multitask effectively 🙂