Deep Work Experiment – Day 1

I have been reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.  I have made it through the theoretical portion of the book and am now in the practical  section where you attempt to put the ideas into practice.

I do not remember how I came across the book but I was patient and it was finally available at our local public library.

I think the interest in the book has been fueled by a frustration of sorts that I have faced more recently when the company I work for moved into some new facilities.  I am glad that we have new facilities but I am finding it hard to adjust to the new normal of the open concept floor plan where there are no cubicles or dividers.  Offices are reserved for those who are director level and above.  There are huddle rooms, focus rooms, etc.  The focus rooms are a bit small and tend to be on the claustrophobic side.  The huddle rooms are good especially if you have a day full of conference calls.  Working on the floor is nothing more than a big distraction now that there are no walls.

Before I go any further, I think it is important to define what deep work actually is:

Deep work:  Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.  These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.  (Deep Work – pg.3)

It is also important to understand what the opposite is – shallow work

Shallow work:  Noncognitively demanding, logistical style tasks, often performed while distracted.  These efforts tend to not create too much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. (Deep Work – pg. 6)

Through personal experience and reading enough articles on the subject, I knew firsthand that multitasking does not help one become more productive, it makes one stupid and less productive.  Not only is multitasking bad, being distracted is equally as bad.  We are distracted by notifications from our smartphones (guilty), notifications when we receive an email in our inbox both on our smartphone and while using our work computer (guilty). Instant Messaging at work is another major distraction because we are always reachable.  Once we respond to those distractions, it is very hard to get back to what we were doing.  How many times have you been in the midst of something and something beeps at you, whether it is email, instant messenger, etc.  For the record, I silence my phone while I am work and have most notifications turned off.  My phone is not my biggest distraction during my workday, it is the tools like email and Instant Messenger.  I will admit it is very convenient to “ping” someone to ask them a quick question rather than clogging up their email in box with another email.  I have been guilty of using Office Communicator at work to do this, not realizing I could have been contributing to someone else’s distraction.  I know that I have been distracted many times in the midst of a task by an IM and I also know how hard it is to get back on task.

For several weeks, I was already frustrated with the new “open” floor plan but I also noticed that I was unable to really make any significant progress on my daily work.  Before writing this post, I went back and checked my work calendar and there were two days where I had very little time to get my real work done.  I spent those days in meetings, on conference calls, dealing with email, etc.  Ironically, on April 13th (my birthday) I was literally busy from the time I arrived at work shortly after 8 am until lunch time at 12:30 and then again from 1:00 until I left around 4:30 pm.  I had two open slots that were unscheduled, but I was so distracted from various back to back meetings and conference calls that it was hard to focus for those “open” time slots.

I decided to try to see if I could do Deep Work today and it was the perfect day to try it because for the first time in weeks, my work calendar did not have one meeting, one conference call on it.  I went in last night and blocked my time in 90 minute increments for my larger tasks.  When I got to work I was going to use a huddle room, but there was some issue with the wireless network, so I had to drag my stuff to a desk on the floor and resign myself to being distracted at some point because of the noise, chatter, etc.  One of the first things I did was turn off the annoying sound and the display when you receive an email in Microsoft Outlook, you know that annoying box that comes up when an email arrives.  That is doing nothing more than training people to be like Pavlov’s dog, when the chime goes off and the dialog box appears, you check the email.  I tried something different, I turned off the notifications and gave myself a 30 min period in the morning to deal with emails and I didn’t close out Outlook, it stayed open but I didn’t check it every ten seconds.  That was hard because I was so used to feeling like I had to respond to every email as soon  as it hit my inbox. I think as long as I respond back in the same day or within 24 hours is acceptable.  This experiment worked because I didn’t feel as stressed and I was able to get through all of my emails for the day.

I did an assessment of my data and productivity and found that I had one of the most productive days that I have had in a long time.  I plan on trying to do more deep work tomorrow.

I also plan on writing a more detailed review of the book Deep Work once I finish the remaining pages that I have left.





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