4 Barriers to Deep Work

By: Kelly Meissner on November 3rd, 2016

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4 Barriers to Deep Work

Work Smarter  |  Cal Newport  |  Remote Work  |  Increase Productivity

If you’re someone who is part of a distributed team or collaborates with colleagues remotely, the concept of deep work can have a profound and lasting effect on your productivity, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.

Defining the Concept of Deep Work

Cal Newport, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and best-selling author, defines the concept of deep work in this way:

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

In his most recent book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport notes that deep work is a rarity, given the distractions of modern life:

“Big trends in business today actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work, even though the benefits promised by these trends (e.g., increased serendipity, faster responses to requests, and more exposure) are arguably dwarfed by the benefits that flow from a commitment to deep work (e.g., the ability to learn hard things fast and produce at an elite level.”

The concept of deep work is a highly valuable one for remote workers and their managers. Deep work done remotely, however, does have its complexities.

Even though people who work from home get to avoid the noisy co-workers and constant interruptions of an office environment, remote work comes with its own obstacles to productivity.

So we’ve put together a list of common barriers to deep work for remote teams, along with some practical tips for eliminating them:

4 Barriers to Deep Work

1) The Concept of Constant Communication

At first glance, constant communication might seem like a good way for remote teams to stay on the same page and collaborate effectively. However, the reality is that collaborating constantly with others does not allow you to concentrate effectively on your own specific tasks and goals.

Apart from projects that require teamwork, each team member must have time to complete his or her designated tasks with focus and concentration. This might require setting guidelines as a team for the use of messaging apps and blocking out time slots for uninterrupted work.

2) The Prevailing Preference for Connectedness

Without modern technology, remote work would be impossible. However, that same technology provides abundant distraction that many people find hard to resist. According to Forbes’ “How to Boost Productivity as a Remote Employee”, the average American spends over three hours each day on social media platforms alone.

But you don’t have to give up your favorite sites to avoid distraction. In the article, Sujan Patel suggests setting aside special breaks throughout the day to indulge in your favorite online diversions (in moderation, of course):

“Save the social posts, video clips, news, surfing Reddit and browsing Pinterest for the short little 5–10 minute brain breaks you sprinkle 2 or 3 times throughout your day. When it’s not a scheduled break to give your mind a rest, keep those sites shut down. If you have the social apps and notifications set up on your mobile device, shut those down as well to remove any added temptation.”

3) The Thought That Multitasking Is Expected and Effective

With the hectic pace of modern society, it has become generally accepted that the ability to multitask is essential to business success. The reality is, however, that research just does not back up that notion. The Forbes article quoted earlier observes:

“Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London studied over 1,000 workers and found that multitasking with electronic media caused a significant decrease in IQ — as high as 10 points. According to the study, this essentially equates to losing a full night of sleep. If you want to maximize your productivity, focus and bang out one task at a time. It’s that simple.”

It’s time to retire the idea that by trying to do multiple things at once, you’re actually getting more done. It’s much more likely that you’re accomplishing far less than you would be by giving your full attention to one task at a time.

Scheduling shorts bursts of concentrated work time on a single task, interspersed with breaks (as advised by time management systems like the Pomodoro Technique), is one way to structure your workday to minimize the likelihood that you’ll fall into multitasking or task-switching.

4) The Lack of a Work Ritual That Signals the Beginning & End of the Work Day

For remote workers, a huge challenge to deep work is the constant drive to continue working past the mind’s ability to focus effectively. Many people who work from home aren’t required to stick to a pre-determined schedule, which offers great flexibility but also comes with the downside of no boundaries or expectations when it comes to work hours.

That is, it becomes much too easy to work beyond reasonable hours—and as a result, blur the lines between your personal and professional life in a way that can become unhealthy or unbalanced. It can be tempting to put in extra time on a difficult project or squeeze in a few hours after dinner or when the kids are in bed—when almost every time, you’ll be no worse off just picking things back up the next day.

One thing that can help is to establish a daily ritual to transition into and out of deep work mode. The mechanics of the ritual don’t matter as long as it works as a personal signal for you that it’s time to begin your focused work time. This could be turning on a certain playlist, putting on noise-cancelling headphones, or going into a dedicated workspace. Then, when it’s time to quit working, stopping that habit or action gives you a physical reminder to shut things down for the day.

Deep Work at Crossover

At Crossover, we’re committed to the concepts of deep work as the best and most productive use of our time. And we believe that the best way to achieve this kind of focused concentration is by having the freedom to work where and when you work best.

That’s why all our jobs are remote / work from anywhere. We want our team members to be at their most productive every day! To see our open positions, visit our job board.