Our office rules for beating distraction and doing deep work

Deep work comes from uncluttered physical and mental spaces

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Despark strives to do meaningful work and seeks to offer people projects with purpose, in return expecting high quality work from everyone on the team. To achieve that, we need to solve complicated problems smartly, be creative, innovative and relevant. That requires laser sharp focus and many hours dedicated to deep work. Great digital products are never the result of shallow work and distracted minds.

However, focusing in the office (or at home, or wherever you work from) proves to be a bit challenging nowadays with all the notifications, pings and attention stealers we need to cope with on a daily basis. So we decided to introduce some tips and tricks that could help the team gain their focus time back and keep them safe from distractions. This was not some epiphany that suddenly enlightened us, we had started to experiment with focus techniques months ago.

Below you will find some of the things we’ve been trying out. Not an exhaustive list, but a good start and foundation to build on:

Silent Space and Do Not Disturb signs

The open office is a big challenge and we happen to inhabit one. We all now know that it is hard to focus in such a space, although it might encourage open communication and serendipitous moments of collaboration. This is why we had to agree on common good practices on not disturbing each other. Hanging “Do Not Disturb” signs on our necks would be silly, so the good old headphones on sign should ring a bell that the person is trying to focus and does not want to be interrupted. As simple as that. We also have a dedicated “silent space” where people can go which naturally means they prefer not to be disturbed at the moment.

Mindful time 2 — 5 pm

A while ago, we decided to introduce the so called mindful time in the office. It is basically a time gap free of meetings, direct messages and loud face-to-face communication. Might sound a bit extravagant, but it is when people are free to go deep into their work and do their magic. And it is not obligatory, more so people have to be aware that even if they don’t want or need to focus right now — others might.

Although it is not very easy to measure, the office is quieter in that time gap and people are trying to respect each others’ mindful hours. It is a practice we started playing with over 6 months ago so its roots are getting deeper in our culture. We started with 12 — 4 pm, but it did not work for our team so we decided to adjust it — make it shorter and after lunch hours (duh). Learn from practice and don’t be afraid to adjust.

Slack and instant messages

We have sent 1,196,631 direct messages since we adopted Slack. Our internal communication changed dramatically and we can all agree that it is both a blessing and a curse. So much has been said and written about how instant messaging is destroying our focus that I will be abstain from stating the obvious here. If you are interested to learn more, take a look at how our Producer Boris went without a phone for 4 months.

Direct Messaging is killing deep work and its demanding nature is aimed at getting people’s attention right here and now. Fortunately, with some Slack customizations, people can choose when and how to get notified, what communication they want in and when they want out. This is great and we encouraged the team to customize Slack and gain their focus back from instant messaging. Taking it one step further, we advised people to think about customizing all their phone and desktop notifications in order to get their mind away from all the distractions out there.

Feedback from the team

We did a small survey at the end of the first month to get feedback on what is working and what isn’t for the team. We were happy to find out that a significant part of the people believed the suggestions were useful and actually had read them in depth — great!. What is even better, they all seemed to understand the merit in having more time for deep work and protect their focus time. There is still a lot of room for improvement, of course — the usual issues like open office and communication appeared in a lot of people’s answers.

Furthermore, although the team is mainly positive about the changes, ¾ did not spend more time on focused work than the month before. We will give it a bit more time to grow on people as one month is a pretty short time in case you want to change the way people work. Thankfully most confirmed they use the good practices suggested on a daily basis, so let’s hope it works!

. . . 

In conclusion, we are fully aware how multitasking, unfocused work and direct messaging can be unproductive for both people and business. So we decided to act on it and help ourselves become more mindful of our time during work hours. We hope that with some further adjusting, those steps will result in a healthier and more productive way of life here at Despark.

In case you are interested in a more detailed description of our “mindful” practices, let me know and I can share the full picture! 

Written by

Sanya Spasova

Culture Chief