Triple Your Team’s Output and Motivation by Making One Small Change to Your Workstyle

 One day, I watched a sparrow from my office window. The bird would pick bread crumbs from the ground while anxiously hopping around and watching out for predators. Doing several things at the same time was its strategy to survive.

Birds do it; bees do it: they multitask.

But we humans got ahead of birds on this planet, right?

Like every young and ambitious entrepreneur, I wanted to be super productive. But like a sparrow, I was hopping from one meeting into another, while making customer calls and anxiously checking for new emails in my inbox.

I am busy, I am everywhere, and I am on fire was my message to my team.

And here comes the worst part: my team embraced it too.

When someone would seek solitude to get their work done, the others would eat him alive: “Pete, why are you working alone? This is not ok; we are a team.”

The quality of our work suffered, and the team’s motivation plummeted. Pete wanted to resign; he was pissed off, feeling alone with our workstyle problem. So I hired more people, and we became even busier.

You may be thinking that I am a fool. Other (smart) people have written so much about the harm of multitasking and distractions. I should’ve seen it coming. Well, I didn’t.

But things began to change after I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work.”

I realized that when we faced a task that required depth and concentration, we easily gave in to distractions. So our value creation suffered.

Here Is What We Did: We Unleashed One Hour of Genius Per Day

Cal Newport introduced the concept of deep work: a workstyle that lets you create real value. Deep work produces the output, which gives your company its competitive edge.

But deep work demands full undivided attention.

“To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing — a task that requires depth.” (Cal Newport)

Programming, creating new algorithms, research, design, crafting inspiring sales presentations, analyzing data, searching for patterns in data — all this requires increased focus and your full mental capacity.

While daily chores like answering emails and calls were still crucial for our company to operate, we also needed to devote time to do deep work.

So we did the following:

We introduced daily deep work sessions for everyone involved in value creation (programmers, analysts, marketers, content creators, etc.) — and we let them work avoiding any distractions for at least one hour every day.

Turning off notifications and finding a low-distraction environment were critical for doing deep work. Phones, notifications, and teammates barging into your office at any time rip you out of your creative flow.

Your team’s output, quality, and motivation will reach unprecedented levels if you follow through. Moreover, deep work is an investment in your team:

“Deep work and mental strain are necessary to improve your abilities and skills… To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work.” (Cal Newport)

Does it matter when you do deep work?

In our team, everyone schedules their deep work sessions on their own. Some do it in the morning; others do it in the afternoon. But it’s your job as their boss to empower and convince them to follow through with this every day.

But How Do I Convince My Team to Do It?

Explain the benefits of deep work

Sure, there are productivity benefits. Working with increased levels of concentration allows you to finish your work faster and improve its quality. But there is more to it.

By unleashing your hidden reserves, you find your true inner talents, reach your full potential, and show the best of what you can. For some, it can even become the source of true meaning at their jobs.

Disciplined deep work can seem hard at first, but it pays off. And most importantly, it does not only benefit the company; it helps everyone doing it.

Be their role model: do deep work too

Grant yourself an hour a day for deep work. Close your door, put your phone on silent, disable any notifications on your desktop, and dig in.

Lead by example. If you do it, they will follow or at least try it.

And your own productivity will thank you for it too.

Do guerilla deep work

This trick worked for me.

Start with deep work on your own. Don’t talk about it with others yet.

After a few days, your team will become curious: “Why is the boss working alone for one hour every day? He doesn’t even answer his emails during this time.”

Curiosity will build tension. They will want to know what you are up to.

Then, relieve their curiosity by revealing your new productivity hack. Share with them what you’ve learned and achieved by blocking yourself from distractions for one hour every day. Suggest that they try it too.

It also gives you enough time to experience the habit of deep work in your skin.

“But only nerds, geeks, and introverts sit alone and work by themselves.”

I’ve been there. You can’t change other people’s minds and what they think. You can only change how you act. So here is what you can do.

First, don’t sit by yourself for too long. You can only do about four hours of deep work a day at best, according to Cal Newport. Find a balance between deep work, communicating with teams, and daily chores. So take breaks and be there for your team during those breaks.

Talk about the achievements you made during the deep work session with others. Tell them about this breakthrough idea you had. Be proud of your work and share it with others.

Others need to see that deep work can bring real fruit of creative genius, and it’s not a handicap of an introvert.

“Hello, I am Jake, and I am addicted to distractions.”

It is difficult to avoid distractions because we are addicted to them. And once we get wired on distractions, we crave them. But every distraction has a price-tag.

To create real value, we need to shut ourselves off from the outside world for a while. Although we cannot turn off our ears, we can still turn off our notifications, close our door, and find a low-distraction environment so we can delve into creation.

Changing your environment and removing the source of addiction is the first step against the addiction.

“But I am in marketing, and I work social media; I cannot just shut myself off.”

Your work is probably more than that. As a true professional, you also need to research, analyze data, and craft new ideas of how to be best at what you do. Use one hour of deep work to do this.

Help each other avoid distractions

For deep work sessions to function well, encourage the whole team to play along.

Avoid interrupting each other ad-hoc. At the moment you interrupt someone, they may be in the flow, creating something meaningful. So if it’s not urgent, wait until they have a break. Or just send them an email.

Do not expect your employees to be available for you when they are in their flow — let them focus. Let them know that it’s ok to turn off their phones and notifications during this time.

Have several dedicated spots in the office where anyone can retreat and work without being disturbed.

Share experience regularly

Sharing is caring. If peers benefit from deep work, others are more likely to try it too.

Let everyone talk about their experience with deep work in a daily standup:

Did it work? Where they able to find time to get their session done? What interfered? What kind of distractions were most challenging to resist? If they managed to get it done, what work were they able to accomplish?

How did they feel about it? How can others help them achieve better results next time? What can you do better as their boss?

Where to Go From Here

To an outsider like an investor, a busy-looking team looks fantastic. People look motivated, driven, and enthusiastic. Everyone is sharing ideas, communicating, having spontaneous meetings, extended discussions. You will get praised for an amazing team-spirit.

But a company can quickly turn into a beehive, damaging its ability to create value. So the secret lies in the balance between daily chores, communication, and deep work.

A healthy exchange of ideas and plans is critical to the success of the company. But people also need to be able to focus on demanding tasks by themselves.

So we learned that regular deep work sessions provide a disciplined and structured way to keep value created in our company. We empower everyone to work for at least one hour a day without distractions.

One hour is not much, but it can become your game-changing competitive advantage:

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy … the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” (Cal Newport)

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