I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to how work works. Everything from the most efficient working blocks to ideal environments. Not to mention things like what you’re working on, both short and long term.
What follows are some of my thoughts as they relate to me. This isn’t an instruction manual for everyone (I have a notoriously weird brain) but I will explain my thought process behind each thing so perhaps you can see how I reached my conclusions and do something similar for yourself.
- I definitely do my best “deep work” at night. Apart from being a natural “nite owl” (which is kind of a nice way of saying hopeless insomniac), I also work best when there’s nothing looming in my schedule. My mind tends to naturally track to my next scheduled thing, so even if that thing is 3 hours away it still tends to distract me from from what I want to be thinking about now. Working at night means there’s nothing looming, so if I want to just get into “the zone” and do deep work, night time is the right time.
- Music keeps me focused. Apart from just giving me a good mood booster, music keeps me from losing track of time. I have a terrible sense of how much time has passed, especially when focused on something I’m working on. If I go down an unrelated rabbit hole while researching (something I’m very guilty of), I can easily lose hours if I’m not paying attention. But music gives me a concrete marker for the passage of time, and so that doesn’t happen.
- If I’m working on something that isn’t super interesting to me or I don’t want want to be working on (but is necessary), then I really enjoy working with a partner. I remember at a previous role I had, there was a coworker I got along with very well, and we’d stack our least pleasant tasks together and tackle them once a week on a late worknight, order food, and keep each other focused and motivated. Definitely beat trudging through it alone, especially if you find yourself easily distracted. In a remote environment (like many of us are in now!), I wonder the best way to just have someone working adjacent to you but not with you might be?
- My creative impulses are not all the same, so having different ways to express them and organize them are key. Sometimes I need to scribble, so an actual notebook is essential. Sometimes I need to type. Sometimes I need to talk out loud.
- I reduce the distractions presented by various devices by giving them specific mounts on my desk. The mental trick works really well for me – putting my phone in another room won’t work for me, since I frequently use if for work, but putting on a mount on my desk while I’m working turns it into a work accessory, and not something I’m just randomly picking up to fiddle with.
- When my hands get idle, I lose focus. I keep “fidget” objects on my work desk – and ONLY on my work desk. That means when I get fidgety, I’m still keeping my mind in a work mode, because my mind still associates fidgeting with those particular objects as something that happens only during work time.
I think lots of people don’t actually think about how they work best, which not only means they’re working less efficiently than they could be, but it means they think that generic solutions will work for them. I don’t think they will – this seems to be an area where you have to really self-reflect and lean into your strengths. And especially adjust for your weaknesses.