If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ve experienced this scenario:
You’re working on an important task, and it’s going amazing. You’ve been working on it for a week, and it’s finally coming to a close. After days of work, you put the final stamp on it, email it to the relevant party, and sit back at your desk.
After a little celebration break, you check the clock- it’s 3:15pm. You know you have a meeting at 4:00, so you have 45 minutes to fill.
Naturally, you don’t want to start something major and be interrupted just when you get started. Likewise, you don’t want to simply waste the time doing nothing. So you need a small task: one big enough to be worthwhile, but small enough to be accomplishable.
This process of allocating tasks to time is a game I like to call Schedule Tetris. It’s a game most of us play inadvertently, as we jump between meetings, notifications, emails, planning, and – always last, but never least – our own work. It’s a difficult game, where losing can cost hours of valuable productivity.
So let’s dive into the mechanics of Schedule Tetris, and see what it takes to be a champion.
If you’re in the majority of knowledge workers, meetings likely take up 40% or more of your day. This means that more than likely, your calendar looks something like this:
In essence, our work-life comprises scheduled meetings, with little chunks of free time in between. This implies that during the day, meetings are being prioritized, while your own work – the stuff that actually matters and moves your job forward – happens somewhere between.
By prioritizing our meetings above our deep work, we’re not allowing ourselves the time we need to do our focused deep work.
It’s even worse when you consider that not all hours are treated equally. If you measure your brain activity with a device like enophone, you’ll see that there are hours during the day when you’re most focused, and hours when you’re least focused. It’s more than likely, your meetings conflict directly with those hours.
Finally, even our focused time is rarely focused. If you add in emails, coworker distractions, and random breaks, studies find that interruptions make up ~27% of our workday.
It’s a surprise we ever get any focused work done at all.
In offices (and now homes) around the world, this is the state of affairs- we’re constantly bouncing between meetings, distractions, and the work we’d intended to do in the first place. Paying no regard to our brain’s natural cycles, or what actually matters at the end of the day.
Suffice to say, there’s room for improvement.
In order to maximize our productivity, we need to increase the quantity and quality of our deep work.
Deep work is when you deliberately focus on a single task for a fixed period of time. No distractions, no meetings, just work. In essence, it’s doing whatever our job description says we’re paid to do.
There are countless articles and books written on this subject. But the gist is – to improve your deep work, you need to do the following.
Anything that isn’t in your calendar will automatically fall to a lower priority than the things that are. So schedule your deep work ahead of time, before you book all your meetings. It can look something like this:
Notifications can very easily steal your attention. So don’t let them – use ‘do not disturb’ mode on your phone and computer, so you don’t need to worry about outside influences.
Even better, get a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones and find some music designed for focus. There’s a lot of good data that shows that this combo can improve sustained attention, and increase your ability to focus on your work. Might I also suggest checking out enophone, and our neuro-adaptive focus music enosound?
Breaks between tasks help orient focus. It doesn’t need to be long; 5 minutes will do. But this ritual of deliberately starting and stopping deep work will help you form a habit of prioritizing it more often during the day.
The reason is that the habit-forming mechanisms that help you make a routine automatically work on triggers and rewards. The trigger for starting deep work can be your calendar reminder or simply the act of putting on headphones. But once you’re done, you want to reward the behavior by cognitively decompressing after your session.
Likewise, you don’t want to create a negative association with deep work by immediately jumping into emails and meetings. So plan small gaps to isolate periods of deep work in your day, and to help reinforce the habit of planned, isolated focus.
Naturally, if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
Several tools now exist to help you gauge your productivity. Whether it’s simply taking a note in your task-manager about what you accomplished, or using a device like enophone to measure your brain’s focus level, you can benefit from this rich data source to begin experimenting with your deep work habits.
For example, you can watch how behaviours like meditation, caffeine intake, use of music, and even time of day influence your level of focus and productivity. Over time, this insight will help make optimizing deep work automatic, and will take you from a Schedule Tetris novice to a deep work pro.
Eno helps make focus easy.
With enophone, you can measure and track your focus throughout the day. Learn when your best hours are, and seamlessly schedule focus sessions into your calendar during these times. When you’re ready to work, our focus music enosound helps you get into the zone, based on peer-reviewed technology shown to improve your sustained attention by 75%.