Tips & Tricks

How to get into the flow of ‘deep work’

Home-office

‘Working from home’ used to be the answer to productivity.  In my previous client-side marketing life, Fridays were the shining light of productivity. While Monday to Thursday were filled with meetings and running from one place to another, Friday was the time that I actually did the work that came from all those meetings and running around.  It was when I could sit down, have a hot drink, and got the sh*t done.

Now, my working from home days look more like this: 

  • I roll out of bed.  It’s 8:55.  As in, 5 minutes before I should be at my computer – because I can.  (Parents – don’t hate me.) 
  • I throw on sweatpants – because why wouldn’t you? 
  • I make coffee while getting my desk situated for the day.  Laptop out of the drawer, mouse connected, glasses on, water glass filled.
  • I sit down to work.
  • Emails.  So many emails.
  • I sign in to a meeting.  I’m the first one to start it.  Pat on the back.  I put a good thinking face on, nod at appropriate times, write the notes, declare the actions.  That went well.
  • Ok, let’s get on that to-do list.  Damnit, there’s another check-in coffee.  I should really attend though.  I haven’t been to one in weeks. ‘My weekend was great’ – [did nothing] – smile – ‘how about you?’ 
  • Doorbell rings.  ‘Oh, sorry, I have to go.’  Amazon delivery.  
  • Actually, I’m hungry.  Snack?  Yes.
  • Quick bathroom break.  Whoa the sink is dirty.  I should wipe that down.
  • Shoot, my Teams status light went orange.  Hope no one saw. Back to work. 
  • ‘Ping’.  Somewhere in all of that I started a load of whites.  

Now, more than ever, it’s hard to get into the ‘flow’ – a state of deep work where time passes by and you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing.  There are just too many distractions on both the home and work fronts.  On the work-front, the very thing that is making remote working ‘work’, is what is holding us back from doing good work.  We’re always contactable.  Email, video calls, audio calls, (phone calls?!), Slack, Teams chat, WhatsApp – the list goes on.  This parma-accessibility is what we sign up for.  We exchange it for the ‘treat’ of staying remote, promising that remove working will continue to work.  This parma-accessibility is what deems us as ‘good workers’.  That green light?  Always green.  

Besides the need to always be available, there’s so much for us to consume.  There are a million webinars to go to.   We all have at least 20 browser tabs open (I’ve written another diatribe and challenge on that).  We’re trying to take it all in, to attune to as much as we can, multi-tasking to ‘do it all’.  

It doesn’t work.  Through all of this accessibility, we just don’t have ‘time’ to actually work.

Apparently, Dickins was notorious for turning down dinner invites.  He was adamant that distractions were the enemy and did everything that he could to protect his mental creative zone.

He was on to something.  Are we shutting down the distractions enough to tune in to our own work?  Are we tapping in to our full abilities, the full extent of our focus and potential?  

The days that I love what I do are the days that I actually do what I do.  Crazy, I know.  Though it’s part of every job in existence, I’m not a professional emailer.  Nor a meeting note-taker.  Nor, a house cleaner, coffee-maker or bird-watcher.  I’m a strategist.  And when I get to shut down the inbox, put my phone on silent and settle in to a strategy, I couldn’t be happier.  It’s the feeling of ‘flow’ that is somewhat intangible but completely identifiable once you’ve been in it.  

So how do we get there?  I’m not an expert and I’m all for suggestions, but here are some of the tips that I’ve heard or implemented along the way: 

SETTING UP FOR THE FLOW

  • Actually get ready in the day.  I know, it’s the oldest WFH tip around, but it is for a reason.  Don’t delay the shower till lunch and wear something that you’d wear into the office.  Don’t go crazy – your jeans can have some stretch in them – but wear something you feel good in and is classified as ‘I meant to put this on’ and ‘yes, my teeth AND hair have been brushed today’.  

DURING THE FLOW

  • Regularly schedule your ‘deep work’ time.  Put it right in the calendar (diary, to my wonderful UK friends) and block it off.  Consistency in scheduling will help colleagues know when you’re unaccessible and help you get in the consistent routine.  Whatever it is, whenever it is, hold to it like you would the most important meeting in your day.
  • Do it before when you’re most productive.  And if you’re not sure when that is, do it before the other things seep into the day.  I like to end the often first thing.  
  • Do it with a friend.  You can each have the same virtual ‘deep work’ time.  The accountability helps.  There are also more apps out there that can guide you through ‘deep work’ sessions and help keep you accountable.

AFTER THE FLOW

  • Recover.  I love how the Flown, a new-to-me site, encourages this.  They have scheduled sessions for deep work, then many options for your recovery – from stretches, to creative activities and more. The brain isn’t meant to be this deep work state indefinitely.  Deep work is a sprint – you can do it for a specific period of time and it feels great and all capacities are firing, but then you need to rest.  You need to recover, to go for a walk, to reset.  Let your mind continue the unconscious work and give yourself the space and freedom to think creatively. 

Don’t be a Dickins – say yes to your social times – but protect and block your space to prioritising your focused time.  Know that by getting into the flow you are investing your time wisely, amounting to better and more efficient, more effective work, more enjoyable work.  

What do you do to get in the flow?  Reply below or send me an email

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I’ve always wanted to do great work and see great things. It’s what’s moved me to live in Australia and France, to work in places like Egypt, India and China, and to land here in England to start this fresh take on marketing called Penner Collective.

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