Read this article and you will become an expert on the concept of focus time. You will learn how to take control of your workday and as a result, be engaged, and produce results that you can be proud of. This article is broken into three categories:
What is focus time?
In short, focus time is uninterrupted time that allows the individual to use most or all of their potential on a highly demanding task. This is another term for state of mind called 'deep work'.
In this state, disruptions should be eliminated as much as possible. According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task”, meaning that even a quick check for incoming messages can seriously disrupt your flow.
Cal Newport, a renowned author and computer science professor, coined the term “deep work” and describes it as:
“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.” - Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
He reckons that disorganised employees can do one hour of deep work a day while pros can do four hours, so aiming for two to three hours of deep work per day is a good place to be.
However, it's not as easy to achieve if your workday is full of distractions, starting with work-related noise to notifications on social media networks.
What's causing the lack of focus time?
At Flowtrace, we've seen that teams who average two to three focus time hours are more engaged, satisfied to their work, and can deliver meaningful work faster. If you find that you have less than an hour of focus time, you are likely suffering from too many distraction.
Common symptoms of too little focus time
Ending the day with a feeling that you didn't achieve anything
Being busy all the time and postponing critical projects
Having very little sense of control over your workday
Work keeps falling between the cracks
Hard to switch off after the day is finished
Lateness in work across teams
Common root causes of too little focus time
Too many interruptions including ad-hoc meetings and Slack messages
Not having the right tools or information to complete the work
Lack of clarity in your role and expected responsibilities
Not planning work enough or protecting your calendar effectively
Taking on too much work or overestimating how long it should take
Having a work culture that encourages immediate answers
Prioritising small tasks over large projects
Trying to multitask to catch up with work
Poorly defined task handovers
What can you do to take control of your focus time?
SCHEDULE YOUR DAY AND SET PRIORITIES
Writing an email or completing a quick admin task may feel satisfying, but it's unlikely to have a major impact on the business. You need to find balance in your workday to do important projects as well as the necessary admin, and above all, prioritise the work that needs to be done to push the needle.
TIP: Our Slack app is the perfect companion to help you find the right balance of focus time, collaboration, and, when absolutely needed, multitasking. All metrics are personalised - only individual users can see this data.
AGREE ON HOW YOU ASSIGN AND HAND OVER TASKS AND PROJECTS
Every task that lands on your project management tool should have a clear description and processes attached. In order to improve productivity and minimise disruptions, explain related goals and KPIs and how each stakeholder fits into the plan. When handing over tasks, make sure the assignee has all of the required information, including expected delivery dates.
WORK ON YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS WHEN YOUR ENERGY LEVELS ARE HIGH
Evaluate at what time of day you're most productive and dedicate at least two to three hours of uninterrupted time to work on a single project during this time. It may be first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon - the key is that you do it at a time when you feel the most energetic. Every time you break your flow and switch attention you lose about 25 minutes on average, so try to avoid multitasking at all costs.
TURN OFF MOST (IF NOT ALL) NOTIFICATIONS
Consider introducing Slack office hours to avoid checking messages ad-hoc. Set a time when you deliberately check your communication and collaboration tools. For all other times, either turn off your notifications and mark yourself as Away or switch off the app completely. Of course, you need to communicate this to your team which can be as simple as changing your status update to “Working on project X, back on Slack after lunch”.
DELEGATE TASKS AND PROJECTS
It's hard to ask for help when you need it, but if there's a lot on your plate, you need to speak up. Ask your team and see if anyone has free time to learn something new and help you with the project.