As managers, much of our daily work is problem-solving – going from one issue to the next and resolving each one. We need to approve transactions or discuss with others how to proceed with a question. This type of work requires being able to solve one task at a time and think on our feet. It may also require building consensus and teamwork. It is dynamic work and is full of activity.
There are other times, though, when we need to do a more intense kind of work. Sometimes we must do a deep-dive and research a new topic. We may have to think through an entrenched problem or start and engage with a challenging project that requires concentrated attention. Here, a different type of performance is necessary: one in which we take the time to immerse ourselves in an issue and think through it.
Because part of our work is to move from one task to the next and solve problems as they arise, the more intense type of action may be a challenge. Simply finding the time and attention necessary might be difficult.
Taking the Time
Setting aside a block of time in which we will not be distracted and can focus on the matter at hand is the first step. Our schedules are often hectic, and a million small activities may take priority over that one big project. Sometimes we have not organized our plans around being able to work on these types of projects, and we do not have a set time for each of the activities we do.
One thing that has worked well for me is to gradually build in the space in my schedule for more intensive projects. In my case, I reserved the morning, which is the time when I can devote the most attention to difficult assignments. Then I save the afternoons when my energy has slightly diminished, to interact with smaller issues because I often collaborate with others, and that gives me momentum.
It took me around six months to get used to my new workflow. Eventually, though, I left the space blocked off in my schedule so that every time I must do this type of more profound work, I have the time and attention ready to do so.
Intensive work also requires discipline: to sit day after day, moment after moment, working hard to get it all done. There will always exist more dynamic, easier things to do, but it is these hard, focused tasks that will often bear the most significant fruit. Therefore, persevering is the only way that the work will get done. For more on discipline, please read Self-Discipline: The Personal Quality that will Expand Your Business.
Getting started is often the most challenging step but finding the discipline each day will help you progress in each project you begin. You will make progress without even realizing it, as showing up is half the battle.
Having uninterrupted time is the first step to making sure you can do intense, thoughtful work. Beware, though, because sometimes the worst interruptions are the ones that exist right next to us, in our hands – our phones. I often have a couple of conversations going through text messaging, and sometimes they are much more interesting than whatever I am working on. From there, it is a short hop to other apps like Instagram, and I can lose more than a few minutes that I hadn’t originally budgeted.
Another one of the great enemies to thoughtful, intense work is multitasking. We unfortunately, believe that we can do more than one thing at the time. It has been shown, however, that multitasking reduces our performance. We may think we’re multitasking, but what we are doing is moving from one task to the next. The problem is that once we move from one job to the other, it can take as many as 25 minutes to get back on track once we have interrupted the initial task.
Once we are engaging with our project, it is best to shut off all distractions and give the project at hand the proper attention to focus completely. Not only will you perform better, but you will also give your attention to those vital projects that will have the results you want.