4.5 MIN READ
Bookkeepers may seem superhuman with their ability to stare at page after page of numbers day in and day out—and actually enjoy it—but believe it or not, they’re just like you and me. These cut-above workers share many of the same struggles as the rest of us mere mortals and are faced with many of the same workplace challenges.
In this case, we’re talking about productivity, or rather lack thereof.
Have you ever struggled to get in your work groove? Or have you felt unproductive when deadlines are looming and projects aren’t coming to completion?
You’re not alone. Most, if not all, of us could stand to learn more about the art of deep work.
Author Cal Newport coined the term “deep work” with his book titled, you guessed it, Deep Work.
So, what exactly is it?
Deep work is the concentrated, focused work you do to accomplish tasks and goals and improve your skills. It involves removing distractions and being persistent about improving your focus.
When you achieve deep work, you can get more done in a day, make better use of your time, and increase your mental capacity. Who doesn’t want that?
Below are a few suggestions to practice deep work and supercharge your productivity.
#1. Free Your Mind
Get other things off your mind so you have the mental capacity to focus. I try to do this first thing in the morning on the white board in my home office. Take out a pad of paper or open a new document online. Write down everything that comes to mind as far as tasks you need to get done at home, at work, and in life. Do you need to remember to feed the neighbor’s dog, water the garden, email a proposal to a client, and meet with a mentor for coffee at noon? Jot it all down so these to-dos aren't top of mind and the thoughts don’t come rushing back into your head while you’re in the middle of a larger, more time-consuming project. While you’re working, keep this task list close at hand. If a thought comes while focused on something else, quickly jot it down and address it later so it doesn’t derail your current focus.
#2. Create a Schedule
You most likely have things like important meetings, new hire interviews, or prospective client calls logged in some sort of calendar. But have you scheduled out time for your day-to-day operative tasks, or time to focus on specific projects? Time blocking is the stuff of magic when it comes to productivity. Block off chunks of time where no one can schedule with you. Maybe block off two hours from 1–3 PM that is solely used for accomplishing a larger task. This is “you” time that can’t be broken though—it must be honored. Don’t disrespect your time by using that two-hour block to call your mom or shop online. If you focus better in the morning after your first cup of coffee, block off a couple hours before noon. Or perhaps you’re a night owl; block off a couple hours after the rest of the world has gone to bed. Do what works for you. Time blocking is a simple, flexible, and effective way to help you manage your time better and stay productive on a daily basis. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Lost time is never found again.” Smart man. Take control of your time—and productivity—by time blocking.
#3. Remove the Distractions
When it’s time to work, eliminate anything that might distract you. Rid your workspace of anything that could derail your thoughts so you can stay focused and increase your productivity.
Mute your phone and move it so you can’t see it. Better yet, put it in another room entirely. Smartphone addiction is very real. Shut down any communication apps you use at work. You can set a status to say you’re in a meeting and mute notifications. If you work best while listening to music or having background noise, turn something on. Prepare ahead of time by shutting down your email, closing your web browser (your Amazon cart will be there when you’re done), letting the dog out, and setting up your work space. Ask your loved ones and those around you to do their best to not interrupt you for the time you have allotted. This is a time for productivity, not a conversation about what’s for dinner.
Shut the door to your office. If you work at a large office with an unspoken open door policy, schedule some time with your supervisor or boss ahead of time to let them know you are trying something new and have a couple of hours every day that you’d like to close your door so you can eliminate outside distractions. Explain to them the concept of deep work and I’m sure they will happily support your focus and productivity. They may even adopt some of your productivity practices.
#4. Don’t Expect It to Be Pleasant
Have you ever tried to not drink coffee for a week? Your head hurts, cravings take over, you can literally smell every coffee shop within a mile of your office, and your routine is off. It’s not pleasant.
Changing your way of doing things is never easy. It will be hard to not check your email or eagerly pick up your cell phone every time it buzzes. We are curious beings by nature and want to know what’s going on at all times. But try to remember that these are detractors from your overall goal of achieving more in a shorter amount of time and power through the discomfort.
After your first few scheduled sessions of deep work, you may not notice you got a whole lot more done that you would have in your regular routine. That’s okay! You’re training your brain to focus and developing good habits that foster productivity. After a few weeks of deep work, you will notice your task list is diminishing, your ability to focus has increased, and you’re getting your work done faster. What once was a 10-hour workday may become a 9-hour workday, and a more enjoyable, less stressful one at that.
That feeling you get when you accomplish a big task is highly rewarding, almost addictive, and will be a driving motivator to do it all over again during the next scheduled session.
Oh, and here’s one more helpful hint for freeing up time and increasing productivity. Outsource the tasks you dread so you can focus on what you do best. If you’re like the rest of the general population, you detest bookkeeping. Lucky for you, we aren’t like the rest of the general population—we freaking love it.