Last year, when the pandemic forced us all into remote work, I tried to map an office-based work environment to the new remote setting. I failed.
Every interaction I had back in the office replaced by a Zoom call. 60% (even more on some days) consumed by synchronous conversations. I couldn't get any focus work done. Eventually, the day was a mix of small bits of “free” time and meetings. Things had to change. Here are the steps I took to get my focus time back:
Step 1: Block Time On Your Calendar
I started by blocking time on my calendar. A minimum of two hours per block. Three blocks per week. I defended them ruthlessly. No interruption. All Notifications disabled. Only my wife was allowed to call me if the house is on fire.
Step 2: Replace Status Meetings With Video Messages
An increasing number of my meetings had been about the status of a project or a client. A lot of 5-15 Minutes meetings. Very distracting, although decisions are necessary. I replaced (most) of them by asking for short videos. Blocked some time on my calendar to consume them all in one sitting. Answered them with a short video too and get back to focus work. I could have used email too, but the video component makes it more personal.
Step 3: Long-Running Discussions Are better Done Asynchronous
Instead of attending a weekly series of meetings to discuss a topic, I started to use an asynchronous approach. A forum, to be precise. We discuss long-running topics here. Anyone can contribute on their schedule. Sure, it might take longer to come to a conclusion, but the results are almost always way better. Added to that the results are replicable because they are already documented.
Some measurements are easier to implement than others, but even a little of each will help you get back much needed focus time. They helped me get sanity back into my workday. Even allowed me to write daily. Which is really fun.