Do you ever have those days where you feel like you’re constantly on the go but nothing is getting completed? In marketing—like many other industries that require us to be in-sync with the digital world—we often experience the familiar paradox of feeling overwhelmingly busy yet accomplishing far less than our daily target goal. How does this perpetual feeling of burnout and underproductivity come to be, and what can we do to fix it?
Courtney Bannatyne, our Content & Client Manager at UpHouse, found herself in that constant loop of answering emails and hopping onto last-minute client calls, derailing focus from big-picture projects. Work time began to creep into home time, and rest time was riddled with thoughts of “Am I forgetting something?” Her outlook and approach to day-to-day work began to shift after crushing Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Carving Out Time for Deep Work
Newport argues that we can’t reasonably focus on a task requiring critical thinking and deep thought when we are constantly connected to the rest of the world (AKA distractions). To many of us, this is a no-brainer, but we can’t quite pull ourselves out of the trap of constant distraction—especially when social media is a major aspect of digital marketing and emailing and inter-office messaging are basic requirements of almost every knowledge worker. Deep Work provides direction to tackle this challenge by dispelling myths about productivity and providing concrete plans of action to eliminate distraction, so you can take your focus seriously and create truly extraordinary work.
There’s No Such Thing as Multi-Tasking
What’s really happening when you’ve got three activities on the go all at once? That’s not multi-tasking—it’s switch-tasking. You’ve only got one brain, and if you want to create powerful work that resonates with people, you need devote your brainpower to zeroing in on that project. This is why social media, phone—and even email—notifications can be such a creativity killer! When you’re trying to achieve a flow state but keep getting snapped out every few minutes, finding your groove becomes impossible.
It isn’t just about productivity either. Studies have found a positive correlation between higher instances of flow states and personal satisfaction. When people produce more deep work, they’re happier!
Scheduling Your Day Down to the Minute
This is one of Newport’s systems for staying on-task and optimizing productivity to work deeply. Courtney tried it out for a few months, and while it was tough to start out, the benefits quickly became crystal clear. Gone was the false sense of productivity from answering a flurry of emails and constant task-switching. Suddenly, she had a hard-copy track record of everything she accomplished, and a stronger understanding of how much time it required.
So, how do you schedule your day ahead of time when you don’t know how long each task will take? That’s where Parkinson’s Law comes in. The idea is straightforward: tasks will take as long as you want them to take. If you set aside two hours or ten hours to write a script, it’s going to take however long you decide. It’s kind of like owning a purse—regardless of the size, that thing will fill up with old receipts and junk before you know it.
That’s why we see such impressive productivity from companies adopting the 4-day work week. They aren’t losing a day of work; they’re making better use of their time and focusing in on what they need to accomplish, exactly when they need to. Less scrolling, less zoning out, less shallow work, and more deep work.
Admittedly, sticking to the strict daily habit of scheduling her day down to the minute proved to be difficult over the long term. But even as a short-term exercise, Courtney developed a better sense of how to use her time and attention more efficiently.
In essence, it’s a practice of mindfulness. Seeing exactly how much time you’re spending on projects and consciously considering your ability to focus helps put your mind at ease, calming the buzz of mental clutter.
Try challenging yourself to schedule your day down to the minute, even for just one week. Give priority to what’s wildly important and set aside time to dive into those emails and notifications in between, or after, those flow states. And whatever you do, resist the urge to scroll the apps. It’s frustrating to resist, but the results from practicing it over time will allow your brain to endure longer and deeper bouts of valuable concentration. Worth it? Courtney thinks so!