Ahh focus time . It can be difficult to find enough of it during a busy digital work day between the messages, the meetings and all those noisy notifications. There’s so much digital distraction at play.
Business leaders may feel frustrated by productivity levels, unmet targets or projects that aren’t moving along as quickly as they’d like. Why can’t the team get more work done?
But these same leaders will also be the first to ping you for updates, start more project chat channels and schedule yet another meeting to discuss the status of work.
With all the time we’re spending managing communication tasks and activities—this work about work that doesn't really create value for a business in the long run—how are we supposed to get the real work done?
This isn't just a matter of finding a great personal productivity hack, either. It's a team problem and it's a company problem. Why? Because nobody can really opt out of the collective noise...certainly not in a remote teamwork reality.
If we want to start having more focus time in the workday, which ultimately is when the meaningful work and progress happens, we need to get real about what our digital work days truly look like from a technology-usage perspective. Our technology usage paints a pretty clear picture of what our workday looks like, afterall. And if we can see where the noise and distraction is happening, then we have a strong starting point for collectively addressing it.
From the top down, entire teams need full visibility—even proof—of how much all the over-communication and low-value busy-work are truly impacting our ability to do more of the stuff that really matters.
Collaboration is scrambling our brains and shredding our workdays
We all have feelings and perspectives about the various distractions preventing us from having more focus time each week.
- For C-suiters, time spent in apps like Teams and Slack is often imagined as team members sending each other endless cat memes and chatting about their weekends instead of working. Some are even green-dot-watching—because if you don’t appear online, that must mean you aren’t working, right? The thing is, execs are often able to unplug from tools like Slack, and they also have people around them that can help. But what about the rest of the team? Can they opt out?
- Probably not. For the team, there’s a desperate feeling that after all the interruptions, context switching and follow-ups they need to do in a digital work day, there’s just not enough time to do what needs to be done. Please, not another Zoom call!
Feelings and perceptions are often worth exploring and discussing, of course. But facts are facts. The ability to look at the data around how digital work days and weeks unfold with our patterns of tech usage creates much better opportunities for fruitful discussion.
- How much time in our days is getting eaten up by the messages, meetings and notifications? And how much time is leftover? Seeing the open blocks of time—or more likely, lack thereof—can be pretty eye-opening.
- How often do we move between our apps and our communication tools? The realities of most people’s context switching—maybe even yours—might shock you.
- And how often do we spend long stretches of time completing work in single apps? Probably less often than you think, and certainly less often than we should.
The reality is, if you and your team want more focus time to do that deep, meaningful work, then something’s got to give. You need to:
- eliminate activities and interactions that aren’t providing value so you can create more time for scheduling focus space, and
- choose to disconnect and move into asynchronous work mode when the opportunities arise. Sometimes scheduled focus blocks don't survive when they collide with the reality of working on a team. The answer is a mix.
Clear, real-time visibility into what’s happening in your digital work days can provide 'ah-ha' moments and create opportunities for change to start happening. And changes that help everyone work more efficiently and effectively are in everyone’s best interest.
Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it
C-suiters and every member of the team for that matter may have a hard time swallowing how much time is actually being devoted to just communicating about work and navigating between periods of work. But measuring and acknowledging these technology patterns is the important thing you need to start doing if you want to create more focus time in your digital work days.
Digital work analytics tools like Produce8 offer that visibility into digital teamwork and technology usage patterns. And once a team’s habits and patterns start to be revealed, it becomes a whole lot easier to identify inefficiencies and unproductive interactions that can be trimmed out.
- A lot of Slack and Teams users end up working synchronously in these tools for well over an hour every day. How much of that is productive and how much is just distracting? It depends on your job and the kind of week you’re having, certainly. But what are the trends you’re seeing over time? It’s also important to note the total time is not the big issue. It's how it’s spread out and the costs of refocusing over the course of the day. Trying some new settings and procedures around your team's usage of communication tools can give everyone back some time and quiet workspace.
- Digital notifications can become not just distracting, but also mentally overwhelming. And often people find some of these notifications don’t even provide any value or actionability. Leveraging the mute functionality and even eliminating notifications that aren’t helpful reduces a lot of mental distraction and time-wasting context switches.
- Too many teams fall into the habit of scheduling too many meetings—and having too many team members in on those meetings. Getting more intentional about when meetings are needed, what the agenda and expected outcomes are, how long the meetings should last and who really needs to be present is an effective way to give people back some focus time. You might even consider trying initiatives like asynchronous work hours and no-meeting Fridays.
According to a recent study from McKinsey & Company, 80% of executives are already either considering or starting to implement some changes to the way meetings happen within their organizations in response to new distributed work models.
“In our efforts to connect across our organizations, we’re drowning in real-time virtual interaction technology, from Zoom to Slack to Teams, plus group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp, and everything in between,” wrote McKinsey. “There’s seemingly no excuse to not collaborate.”
It’s becoming more widely known that we’re dealing with a huge digital work problem here and that changes are required. But how do we know if the changes we’re making are actually working?
Measuring the process and outcome of any changes you make is key. Comparing views of the digital work day before and after shows the evolution.
- You can clearly see whether the changes you’re making are having an impact.
- You can clearly see if the changes are having the desired impact.
- And you can clearly see if more changes are still required.
Productive digital work weeks include more focus time
We’re all so busy. But it still seems hard to get work done, and it’s because of all the digital distractions we’re up against in the modern digital teamwork environment.
We can’t work like we used to anymore. It’s clear we need to start evolving our work habits and patterns to create more space to think and actually do the meaningful stuff that drives business success.
But again, it’s a problem that starts at the top and trickles down through the entire team.
Let’s create a better understanding of how we’re all being pushed to navigate our digital work days so we can start toning down the over-communication, doing a lot less work about work, and maybe even creating some more calm and mental wellbeing in our days while we’re at it.
It all starts with seeing the data about our habits and patterns and committing to positive change.