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  • Judy Sims

How to Find Time for Deep Focus Work

Finding time for deep focus work

Josie’s boss recently noted that Josie's job is actually two jobs. That is to say, there’s more than enough work to keep two Josies fully engaged. As she told me this, I couldn’t help noticing a sense of resignation in Josie’s voice. But there was something else too. There was pride. And also, excitement.


Help is on the way, but it could take up to six months to hire Josie number two. When I asked Josie how it will feel when she’s down to just one job, she said she would be relieved, but also, a bit disappointed.


You see, Josie likes the rush of constant firefighting that comes with having two jobs rolled into one. She likes solving problems. She likes the urgency of it all. She likes what she called the “never ending game of whack-a-mole” and the feeling of “trench warfare”. She also mentioned that sometimes she’s so caught in the trenches that something important will be left undone. And eventually, it always comes back to bite her.


Josie is addicted to firefighting. And it’s quite the drug. It gives her an adrenaline rush, a feeling of accomplishment, and a feeling of connection to those who are in the trenches with her. Who wouldn’t get addicted? She wants more, more, more. And the important stuff, the kind of work that requires her to sit still for a few hours, to focus, to think, and to strategize, just doesn’t deliver the same kick.


We’re all guilty of this behavior from time to time. The problem is, with all that focus on what’s urgent, all too often the important stuff falls through the cracks. And long-term, that ain’t good. Because as Josie said, it will always come back to bite you.


It’s time to get to that important stuff, my friend!


Here’s how to find time for deep focus work.


First, you have to actually find the time for deep focus work.

It’s not going to magically appear before you. Vague notions of I’ll get to it later is what gets you into trouble. We both know you’re not going to get to it. You have to get it in your calendar. Each week, block off an hour or two (or three if you can manage it!). And yes, you do have the time. If someone invited you to a two-hour meeting, you’d find the time. This is no different. Book it sister!


Next, make it an event.

Yes, sometimes the important stuff is boring stuff. Or it’s big stuff that frankly, you may find a little intimidating. Or it requires creative energy that can be tough to generate on the fly. There’s a reason you’ve been avoiding it. The key is to trick your brain into thinking the important stuff is just as exciting and rewarding as the urgent stuff. And you do that by making it an event. Book a conference room, go to a coffee shop, a favorite park bench, or just close your office door. Play some calm, but uplifting music. I like jazz, new age, and sometimes, even a little K-pop will do the trick.  Maybe get a tea and some little biscuits (this is what I do) and have a little sip and nibble as you work. Light a candle or spray a room scent about. Tell your brain that the important stuff can feel good too.


Set some hard and fast boundaries.

Let your team, your boss, your spouse, and whoever else needs to know, that you need some uninterrupted working time. Turn off your Slack and Teams notifications. Maybe put on some noise-canceling headphones. And most importantly, put your phone out of reach.


Optimize your work habits.

Are you a morning person, an early afternoon person, or a late in the day person? Whatever you are, align your deep work sessions with the times you’re at your energy and productivity peak.


Start in the cadence of a walk.

Okay, you’re sitting at your desk, sipping camomile, and munching on some biscotti. The music is playing. The candle is lit. And… nothing. You’re blocked. You’re itching to reach for your phone.

It’s okay. I got you.

All you have to do is start in the cadence of a walk. Do one small thing. Write a title at the top of the page. Make a few bullet points. Then move to the next thing. Do it without self-judgement, without frenzy, and without projecting too far into the future. Write that thing you have to write. Fix that issue. Contemplate that strategy.


Breath. And move onto the next thing.


The goal is to be focused on what you’re doing when you’re doing it. It’s about releasing the past. It’s about now and not what the future may bring.


In time, the important things will feel less daunting.


And nothing will come back to bite you.


Give it a try.


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