Deep Work. What the working world can learn from designers.
Everybody is talking about Design Thinking and how other business units can learn from designers to tackler their tasks and problems. Well, I am ‘another business unit’ and I have been working with designers for years, either with clients or with colleagues. And what fascinates me again and again is not their way of approaching projects (resumably I have internalized that long ago) but something completely different. Something I always strive for without success. In which I may also get better and better in phases. But never get perfect. Something I envy every designer for: concentration. Quiet. Deep work. The focus on one single activity. And therefore best results.
I have been working as an external PR Consultant for Indeed for more than 7 years now. Thus, for more than 7 years I have been walking in and out of their offices. Community has always been important with Indeed, so they have always worked in open spaces. How do they all make it to stay focused, despite every distraction by colleagues, smartphones, telephone calls and visitors? And why does it only need something like a bird in front of my window to lose my concentration? Not to mention calls, emails and parcel delivery at all… The phone rings, an email pops up, the smartphone reports new messages. A customer comes along with
an urgent request, a journalist calls back, a message reminds me of the due social media post. I have to act immediately, haven’t I?
Deep work for more output
Deep work is still not too popular despite the current mindfulness trend. But it should. Because it is not only the guarantee for more output and better results, but also for more satisfaction and a better health. A few years ago Cal Newport has written a bestseller about this issue, and he cites the ‘network tools’ (emails, text messages, social media, smartphones, infotainment websites etc) as the main reasons our attention nowadays only exists bit by bit. Am I possibly innocent of my dilemma? After all, the above mentioned appliances belong to my job like the scissors belong to the barber.
Either way, I am not willing to accept that! Because I firmly believe that the lack of ability to delve into something is really harmful. In particular as it gets lost more and more, the longer we approach things only superficially. The power of concentration, once lost, cannot necessarily be restored; the brain unlearns it!
Cal Newport mentions his own deep work strategies in his book, but I am interested in what the designers have to say about it. Here are the insightful answers:
Focus on interim results
Design is not a single overnight action. It takes many iterative steps to create something new. The process can be a long-lasting one and it involves many different activities. With this awareness, the designer focusses on the next interim result, this is internalized over years.
The progress lies in your own hands and it often happens within short sprints. This allows for concentrated work better than lengthy activities which require persistance. Project stages and the concrete goal are limiting the required time as well. Working out an idea for example means to stop again after the first impulses. Then new thoughts and input are needed and for that our brains needs a break.
Deep work in manageable stages.
Use equipment and change scene
The fact that a tool (pen, saw etc) is usually needed for the designers’ work is helpful. Hence he has to focus not only on himself and his interim goal but also on the correct application of the equipment. This interaction makes it easier to focus and the resulting little steps in the process allow for more frequent breaks and less exhaustion.
Depending on the work step, you ‚lock yourself in’ with all the tools you need right now. Indeed has taken this into account in their new office space: a telephone booth, a lounge, meeting points, presentation areas, and a garage, you will find the right environment for each activity.
Deep Work Locations (by the way also for the power-nap).
Create structures self-confidently
Deep work requires self-awareness, mental clarity and self-confidence. Only then you can meet the following rules that are highly effective for any concentrated work:
- Ignore incoming messages in the concentration phase. Unneeded devices remain in the bag, push messages are switched off. Only you decide when to read emails, not the sender.
- Make decisions to get things going. There will be enough time to refine results later.
- Trust your own expertise and implement what you consider as correct. You do not need evaluation for every single step.
- Schedule your day and don’t get dissuaded by others. You focus on one topic, everything else has to wait.
Deep work with a healthy and self-assured attitude.
Enjoy your favorite music loud
Lucky designers – they work on tasks which allow to get inspired by music. Creative activities flow if your favorite music uplifts your mood (unfortunately, it does not work when it comes to calculations or textual work). It is well-explored that music has a significant impact on our mood. Thus the many headphones in the Indeed-office do their job.
Deep work through happiness (as well as through pop, rock, R & B and dub).
Love what you do
‚Happiness’ is a buzz-word driving to a statement that occurred in every answer I received: The more interesting the task, the deeper the concentration on it. The more someone is convinced of the project and the freer he is allowed to act, the better his deep work. Love for the job leads to best results and success leads to satisfaction, which in turn leads to a calm brain that can focus easily.
Deep work out of joy.
Andrea vorm Walde