Let’s talk about communication in the workplace, and how it is diluting our ability to focus and concentrate on tasks.
“Constantly Talking Isn’t Necessarily Communicating.” ― Charlie Kaufman
It seems that lately there has been a lot of focus on making everyone in the workplace constantly plugged in to an instant messaging platform of some kind. While I understand it’s important for people to communicate openly, being constantly at the mercy of instant messages has it’s downside.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
– Cal Newport, author of Deep Work
In order to do your best work, you need to focus. How can it be possible to focus in an office where you’re constantly interrupted?
In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he discusses the rise in open plan offices and promotion of ad-hoc discussion. Here is the problem: even with open plan offices, it is vital to make time for focused thinking and concentration.
Why is this a Problem?
After being interrupted, the brain takes time to get back into flow again. I’ve talked about the importance of flow before, but just to remind everyone…
“… most of the time there’ll be a lot of different components that all fit together… You might have some networking code over here, you might have a database that’s over here, you might have some functionality that’s over here and you might have some graphical output that’s over here and you’re thinking about how it all threads together.”
– Google Product Manager David E. Weekly
When you interrupt someone, it can take time to get back into the previous state of flow, meaning tasks take much longer to complete than before.
There Is A Time For Collaboration
In my experience as a designer, I know that there is a need for open collaboration between different members of a team, or across teams. Collaboration is essential, and it’s important for everyone to be on the same page about a project. The best collaboration happens at the whiteboard. After that, everyone can go back to their desks to focus on their tasks.
Close Everything Else
Rid your world of possible distractions. Switch the phone to silent, put on headphones to listen to some relaxing music (I recommend this playlist of relaxing Studio Ghibli music on youtube) and close everything that is not related to the project that you are working on.
Close everything that is not essential to the task that you are currently working on.
Close Slack, Hipchat, Email, Calendar Notifications, Skype, Twitter… everything. If there is an emergency, like a fire, I find people will let you know directly.
You Don’t Need To Respond Immediately
In most cases, when someone sends you an email, they are not expecting an immediate reply. They have sent an email just so that you are aware of something. That’s fine, it doesn’t need a response right that second.
Set aside certain intervals of the day to check your email and instant message notifications. I check mine first thing in the morning, immediately before lunch and just as I’m about to finish up in the evenings.
Those are my ways of getting a few hours of ‘Deep Work’ done during the day. I hope you find it useful. I would love to hear if you have any other ways of unplugging from social media apps to concentrate for a while. Why not give me a shout on twitter or on my contact page, and let me know!