Deep Work vs Shallow work: how can you identify symptoms of shallow work and create a deep work routine to increase productivity? Let's start by asking ourselves a few quick questions first:
How many times per day I check my inbox?
How many pointless meetings have I attended in the last month?
How many chat notifications have I received in the past hour?
How long did it take me to get focused again on important work after a distraction or interruption?
The number of interruptions is huge. Workplace distractions statistics show that with the rise of digital technology, remote and hybrid working; productivity is suffering and burn out is on the rise. Research also shows that most employees and teams get their best work done during ‘deep work time’.
In this article we will cover 7 common symptoms of shallow work and give you 5 strategies to get more high quality deep work.
What is Deep Work?
In his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport presented ground-breaking strategies on how to increase your deep work productivity while being mindful of getting caught in traps of shallow work time.
Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World explains:
- Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
- Shallow work is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style work, often performed while distracted.
- Deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output. (Cal Newport)
Symptoms for Shallow Work a.k.a. Distracted Work?
Here's our top pick for the 7 symptoms of shallow work to how you feel. If you answer yes to one or more of these, you clearly do shallow, low value work as part of your daily routine.
- 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
How many did you answer with yes? Don't worry, we all do shallow work time to time.
At Flowtrace, we have benchmarked our clients teams, when they average two to three deep work time hours per day, then employee engagement scores (eNPS) increases, employees become more satisfied in their work and meaningful work gets done faster. If you find that you have less than an hour of deep work time per day, you are likely suffering from distraction overload which is leading to shallow work time.
Workplace Distraction Are Common
Workplace distractions are a growing problem, team productivity, employee engagement and cross functional collaboration are all negatively impacted
- Employees spend up to 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings.
- Over 50% of employees say that they are distracted by their phones at work.
- 98% of the workforce say they are interrupted at least 4 times a day.
- Distractions can lead to committing twice as many errors as usual.
- Each employee loses 720 hours a year per year in lost productivity due to distractions and interruptions
- On average it takes 23 minutes to fully recover focus after a distraction.
(Workplace Distraction Statistics by Statista)
5 ways to get more Deep Work
So you are confident you experience the lack of deep work time and feel the impact of constant shallow work? Read on how to regain the control of deep work time with out top picks:
1. Prioritize Deep Work tasks and objectives
Jumping in and out of your inbox to check your mail 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. Most importantly you need to prioritise the work that needs to be done to push strategic objectives forwards.
2. Make your project handovers fluid
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. The ‘what and by when’ is critical to optimizing deep work time.
3. Schedule Deep Work time when you feel energized
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.
4. Turn off notifications (especially if on Deep Work schedule)
Consider introducing ‘chat notification’ office hours to avoid checking messages out-of-hours. 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 at 2pm”.
5. Ask for help when you need it
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. Do this without distracting them though.
You can read more tips and examples for deep work from our Knowledge Centre. We have also listed most common reasons for workplace distractions so you can identify, and get rid of them.
Common reasons for workplace distractions
No matter where we work, we are all exposed to a myriad of workplace distractions. Continual interruptions and distractions can be costly in both productivity and objectives being achieved, and are proven to be responsible for hindering company growth.
Which workplace distractions below most impact your productivity?
Just a quick catch up
The watercooler has always been a great place to catch up with your colleagues about the company and recent gossip. This could be a reason why distractions in the workplace statistics point to colleagues as a significant distraction factor. Up to 80% of employees say that chatty colleagues are the reason for a lack of focus on the job. Distracted employees are far less productive and more often fail to complete projects on time.
Poor quality meetings is now one of the biggest reason we become distracted and unproductive. On average, employees spend 31 hours a month in meetings with no tangible value, with 71% of employees saying they felt disengage due to poor meetings. Of all the office distractions, meetings are among the most obvious examples of losing productivity but also one of the easiest to improve.
The myth of multitasking
We all have to multitask from time to time, but managing the time given to each task can be just as tricky as managing distractions at work. We would like to think our skills and experience are enough to do this effectively, however when it comes to deep work the science shows that the brain is only capable of doing one thing at a time. So while you think you are getting more done by multitasking, what you are actually doing is reducing your productivity and increasing your chance to make mistakes.
Automated Device notifications
It is how we stay connected to the world and take our work on the, but the number of device notification we receive daily is increasing. Workplace technology distractions statistics put smartphones right at the top of the list of things that make us less productive, and it’s something that we all know we can handle better. More than 50% of employees say they are regularly distracted by their phones and spend hours each day on them. Check your screen time and set yourself a target to reduce this, whilst turning off some notifications during deep work time.
Sending and receiving emails
Email is an important part of business communication and is still widely used for sharing important information with our peers. But the continuous checking for new mails in our inbox is a work distraction we do out of habit. Email was never intended to be a dialogue or something that requires constant attention. It, however, has become a productivity killer, with 7 out of 10 employees saying that emails have a detrimental effect on their work quality.
List goes on and on… Do you recognize these?
- 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
- Prioritizing small tasks over large projects
You removed all distractions and still need more deep work time?
Prioritizing deep work can mean working alone for extended periods of time. However, working with others can unleash the power of “productive collaboration”. Luckily, committing to a deep work time doesn’t mean we’ll be unable to reap the benefits of collaboration. On the contrary, they feed into one another beautifully: time spent learning from others can be explored in more depth once we’re alone in deep work mode.
Additionally, you can practice “team collaborative deep work” in which you work with someone or a small on a problem, both pushing each other towards great outputs along the way.
Find out more about how Flowtrace can improve deep work time, team engagement and cross functional collaboration.