Like most accounting firms, you’re worried about your team’s productivity. You don’t want to exhaust them, but you want to make sure they’re producing quality work at reasonable speeds. Every little tweak to their performance can help you meet your firm’s goals a little faster.
But in the modern work environment, we are constantly beset by notifications, alarms, tweets, and other interruptions. An account is missing documents. A contract is awaiting your signature. A client needs you to walk him through a report. The barrage of interruptions never stops! This is especially true during tax season when it seems impossible to get anything done.
A simple way to boost the productivity of your team, complete more projects, and ultimately serve your clients better is to implement a deep work program. Deep work helps you and your team focus on the projects that create the most value for your firm.
In this article, we’re going to explain the concept of deep work. Then we’ll offer some tips to implement deep work in your firm.A simple way to boost the productivity of your team, complete more projects, and ultimately serve your clients better is to implement a deep work program. Click To Tweet
Deep Work Explained
Deep work is a philosophy developed by computer science professor Cal Newport.
According to Newport, “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship.”
Essentially, deep work is a skill that will make you and your team more competitive in our increasingly competitive work. A person in a state of deep work will work faster and produce higher quality work because they aren’t forced to switch mental modes over and over. Multi-tasking may seem better, but science has proven that it doesn’t work.
Working without distractions can produce powerful results. Fewer distractions increases productivity, especially when employees are allowed to focus on one task at a time. But many of us have lost the ability to work deeply. Instead, we spend our time in a blur of email, social media, meetings, and unimpactful tasks.
The problem is that maintaining focus is exceedingly difficult. It requires discipline, self-control, and a conducive work environment. This also requires the people we work alongside to understand and respect deep work.
Furthermore, it’s tempting to engage in what Newport calls “business as a proxy,” such as checking emails, chatting with colleagues, and attending unimportant meetings. These activities are shallow work. They feel like work, even though they do little to move the needle. It’s hard to really focus on one thing in an age when everything seems to never stop moving.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little effort and company-wide buy-in, you can create a productive environment in your accounting firm that limits distractions, boosts productivity, and creates better work products for your clients.
Deep Work Styles
Implementing deep work is simple: Give your employees a designated block of time for them to work on one task at a time. There are four typical styles for this:
- Monastic deep work: Almost all of your time is spent in deep work. There is little or no shallow work on your schedule. This style is only possible for a small group of people. It’s basically impossible in a modern office, your accounting firm included.
- Rhythmic deep work: Time periods are designated for deep work on a regular, predictable schedule. For instance, everyone might spend the first two hours of each day in deep work. This helps you turn deep work into a habit.
- Bimodal deep work: Deep work is scheduled based on the needs of a project. One project might only require an hour of deep work, whereas another project might require several days of it.
- Journalistic deep work: This is where you fit deep work into your schedule wherever possible. It’s right for people and firms with unpredictable schedules. It’s also useful when deep work just isn’t that necessary (e.g. the office secretary who doesn’t contribute to special projects, but whose job is entirely reactionary).
Which scheduling style is right for you? It depends on your process and workflow. It might be different for each team member, depending on their responsibilities. We recommend discussing it openly with each person to determine which model works for them.
Now that you understand the concept of deep work and why it’s valuable, we’d like to offer some tips to make deep working successful in your accounting firm.
Get universal buy-in from your team
Deep work only works if everyone understands and appreciates it. If Tom is trying to deep work, but Mike keeps interrupting him, Tom’s deep work session is practically a waste. Mike needs to see the value in deep work. He also needs the opportunity to engage in his own deep work.
Avoid unnecessary distractions
This is the heart of deep working, so take it seriously. It takes 23 minutes to refocus on a task once you’ve been distracted. Something as simple as answering the phone or checking your tweets can activate completely different processes in your brain.
If someone on your team is deep working, leave them alone. Don’t drop a new project on their desk. Don’t ask for their guidance on a client matter. Wait until their planned deep work block is finished before engaging them with shallow work.
Create a plan for each deep work session
Deep work is valuable time, so it’s best to hit the floor running. Create a plan for each deep work session that outlines exactly what you’ll work on. Include whatever resources you need to be successful. Remember: The goal is to avoid changing tasks, so set yourself up to focus.
Educate your clients about deep work
If your clients are used to contacting you and your team at any hour, you’ll need to readjust those expectations. However, be careful how you frame this. You don’t want to make them think that you are limiting their access. Let them know about your new deep work philosophy and how your team will be using it to produce better work products than ever before.
Prioritize time management
It’s no secret that smart time management is important for maximizing productivity. At the end of a project (or the end of a week, a month), your team should review what they accomplished and ask themselves if they spent their time optimally. This is the only way to know if improvements can be made.
In order to review your time, you’ll need to use time tracking software. You might be using this already for invoicing purposes. ImagineTime lets you view a breakdown of your hours to help you understand exactly how long projects and tasks take. Administrators can view what the team is working on and spot any bottlenecks before they become issues.
Work at optimal times and in optimal places
Since the goal of deep work is to give your team the opportunity for hyper productivity, it makes sense to optimize their environments as much as possible.
You can’t deep work in an open office with conversations and noises happening all around. Create a space in your office where your team can retreat for deep work. Ideally this space should have a door with a lock. In some cases, it might mean asking the team member to work from home.
Furthermore, ask your team about the times to the day when they are most productive. If they aren’t sure, comb through your time tracking data to learn when they get the most done.
Reduce your overall shallow work
Shallow work can’t be eliminated, of course, but it doesn’t offer the same time-for-value return as deep work. For instance, sending document requests to clients is shallow work. Anyone can do it and it doesn’t require any creativity. But it still must be done.
How do you reduce shallow work? First, automate whatever you can. Every task you can relinquish to software leaves more time for valuable work. Then, delegate whatever you can’t automate. Find the right person in your firm to handle it.
Hopefully by now you should have an understanding of deep work and how it can add value to your accounting firm. Don’t use it to overwork your employees and create burnout. Instead, use it to squeak out a little more performance. It won’t be long before you start seeing the effects of focusing on high value projects.