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Deep Work for Projects

We all know what it’s like, distractions seem to multiply when we have an urgent deadline looming. Distractions seemingly come from everywhere, colleagues appearing at our desks to ask questions, the seemingly continual ping of emails, IMs, Skype and Phone calls. Then there are all the distractions we instigate such as checking our mobile phone, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. All of these distractions eat away not only at our time but also our concentration, our focus and our ability to get the critical activity done.

Cal Newport, in his book “Deep Work”, emphasises that to be highly effective, to deliver high value, high-quality work we need to train our minds to be able to work in focused periods of “Deep Work”.

Deep Work involves not only setting time aside free from distraction, but it also requires training the mind. Only through deliberate practice at mindfully focusing our attention on what is important rather than what provides an easier

Agile frameworks such as Scrum aim to encourage facilitation of Deep Work by focusing the distracting stream of communications into a brief daily stand-up. When done well, this approach can significantly reduce the need for distracting ad-hoc questions and conversations throughout the rest of the day.

Consider what we could achieve as an organisation if we were to focus on those truly strategically important, high-value activities with deliberate focus. Instead, all too often our Project Portfolios tend to represent a long list of distractions that divert our collective attention.

Categorising, prioritising and balancing our Project Portfolios is therefore essential. As Portfolio/PMO managers we must ensure we know and can communicate to our teams and leadership which initiatives contribute the most to strategic objectives.  As Portfolio/PMO leaders we should be helping to protect our teams from the distractions that other low-value initiatives create. Our teams will then have the opportunity to focus on Deep Work to expedite the creation of high-value, high-quality work that benefits the organisation.

How our teams make use of this opportunity for Deep Work will, however, depend upon their self-discipline and training in avoiding distractions. Perhaps we could help by directing them towards Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” or this Coaching For Leaders podcast as a good starting point.