Deep Work out of the office

Quality time with your loved ones isn’t the only benefit of working away from the office.

In fact, I’ve found that one of the best things I can do to increase my productivity and to start knocking off those particularly pesky tasks on my to-do list is to get out of the office. A bit counterintuitive, yes, but true nonetheless. The office is a hive of productivity, and hives are noisy. Sometimes so noisy and hectic that it’s nearly impossible to sit down and see something all the way through, especially the problems and solutions that require a fair bit of focus. More often than not, there are just too many fires that need to be put out, too many meetings that need to be had, and too many phone calls that need to be answered or made in order to start tackling that list of ‘important but not necessarily urgent’ tasks. Time away from the office can provide you the clarity, and maybe more importantly, the dedicated time necessary to address the topics and tasks that have been on the back burner for what seems like forever.

Each July, I’m fortunate to be able to head up to the mountains and experience a whole month without travel (which is a big shift from my regular schedule). It came as something of a surprise to me that I’m much more productive this way than I generally am in the office. In fact, I absolutely crush my to-do list while away because I’m in a state of ‘deep work’. I’m focused on one thing, one issue at a time, as opposed to the somewhat standard state of reconciling a million issues at once. I can slow down, get into the nitty-gritty and stay there long enough to overcome the obstacles, instead of having to run off and completely change gears, completely lose my problem-solving momentum, in the name of the next meeting. In other words, when I’m somewhat detached from the buzz of the office, I can more easily jump in to ‘Maker Mode’. In this space, state, however you want to think of it, I have time and bandwidth to work on the business, not in the business. Time to contemplate strategy, to zoom way out and get a bird’s eye view of the why and what as opposed to the logistics of what, how and when.

To be clear, It’s not about getting especially far away from the office, being unresponsive, or working through your time off. Designated vacation time ‘off the grid’ is also important, it’s just not what I’m talking about here. An “at work” opportunity to break free from the day to day and the office routine has been a nice add for me.

When I get into this deep work mode out of the office, time flies and the productivity seems to flow through me, as opposed to coming from me. For me, the value of time working away from the office is not just to regain focus, but to reexamine my aim. To take my eyes off the waves endlessly crashing over my bow and scrutinize the course I’m charting.

I’d love to figure out how to do this more than once a year. Has this or something similar worked for you? How often (and how) do you find time to get into a state of deep work?

 

file under: Startups
  • Mark Hasebroock

    David- so true. The day before vacation is oftentimes the most productive time for me. I wish that focus could be brought into view every day. Maybe not sustainable. But creating a habit of getting away to actually focus should be the way to do this.

    • David Cohen

      thanks mark. do you find that a day is enough time to get into the zone? i’d miss it the day after!

      • Mark Hasebroock

        no. not really. It seems as though it takes 2-3 days to truly get in the ‘zone’ for me. Something about squeezing out the flurry and distractions invite the important but not urgent stuff in.

  • BSchildt

    Hi David, I’ve been fortunate to work from home, with periodic travel to the office, for many years. My time in the office sounds exactly like yours, but for me it has been the exception to the norm. I’ve found that when my coworkers see me infrequently, our time together feels more valuable and is focused. In my home office, without the buzz of the office, I get stuff done. If your roles and responsibilities allow you to spend more time away from the office (which they must, if you are able to spend a month away each year!), try scheduling a day or two each (and every) week at your home office. Your coworkers will get used to not seeing you, your time with them will be more valued and you’ll get stuff done.

  • Sarah Adams Anderson

    I could not agree with your sentiments more. The idea of blocking out time to be productive on a deeper level is valuable, but I’ve struggled with the right amount of time to make it meaningful. I’ve tried blocking my mornings…every morning to try to tackling big projects, but find that it often gets interrupted with quick questions, 30min meetings, etc… and with only 2-3 hours, that interruption makes this kind of block so much less productive. Now I’ve started blocking 2 days a week for 5 hours and spending that time off site with a priority of to dos (note: deep work CANNOT happen at my desk…simply doesn’t work). It is so much more productive. I’m also experimenting with 1 week per month of NO meetings or phone calls to just focus on priority projects. I’m 100% in your mindset of getting away from the daily grind to find my true productivity; I just haven’t found the right balance yet.