The Art of Strengths Coaching

D is for Doing The Daily Work And The Deep Work Involved In Doing Great Work    

Cal Newport struck a chord for many people with his book Deep Work. He described the joy and meaning that individuals can get from doing such work.

This sense of absorption can be lost, however, when a person is constantly interrupted or needs to shallow work. Here is an extract from a description of the book that you can find on Cal’s website. You can discover more via the following link.

Deep Work

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 fulfilment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.

And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep – spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

This is a theme I have come across many times when mentoring people in organisations who want to do great work. Taking this step calls for doing the following things.

Deciding on the great work

This involves building on their strengths – whether they are an individual or an organisation – and clarifying their picture of success in terms of delivering great work.

Doing the daily work

This involves making sure the daily work – the necessary tasks and activities – gets done to provide a platform for doing the great work.

Doing the deep work

This involves creating the opportunity for diving deeply and then doing the deep work necessary to do great work.

Doing the great work

This involves continuing to ensure the daily work and the deep work are done to the standards required to deliver the great work.

The necessary daily tasks must get done. These may include always doing the basics, maintaining the infrastructure, providing great service to customers and ensuring things run properly.

If this does not happen, these tasks take over. People then spend most of their time firefighting and fixing problems. This distracts them from using their strengths to the benefit of the organisation.

Leaders may then start micromanaging people when they should be managing by outcomes rather than by tasks. Knowledge workers find themselves continually fixing the basics rather than using their expertise. People do not have time to do the deep work necessary to achieve ongoing success.

Good leaders get the right blend between the following activities. They provide clear direction for their team. They ensure all the daily tasks get done – though not necessarily by them. They do their equivalent of deep work.

Such leaders build teams where people are good at managing today’s business whilst also shaping tomorrow’s business. This provides the platform for both present and future success.

How to balance the grunt work and the great work? People don’t mind doing tough jobs, providing they can see the point. But this calls for getting the right blend that also releases them to do what they do best.

Imagine that you want to pursue this approach in your own way. Let’s explore how you can take these steps.

Deciding on the great work

Looking ahead, can you think of a piece of work that you want to deliver? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to run a mentoring session, facilitate a workshop, perform a surgical operation, build a successful prototype or do another activity. You may want to do a specific project when working as an educator, trusted advisor, leader, mediator or in another role.

How can you do your best to perform great work? Different people have different definitions regarding what might constitute such work.

The word ‘great’ is often used as a term of affirmation or as a cliché to describe work that actually may be good rather than great. Here are some of the dictionary definitions.

Great – considerably above average, very good, outstanding, excellent, exceptional, extraordinary.

You will have your own definition. You may aim, for example: a) To deliver high quality work; b) To add that touch of class that produces great results; c) To get as close as possible towards delivering a 10/10.

Bearing in mind the activity you want to do, it can be useful to focus on the following themes when choosing to focus on a specific project. It will be important:

To build on your strengths;

To do satisfying work; 

To set a specific goal where – providing you do your best – you have a good chance of achieving success.

Imagine that you have chosen to pursue a particular project. There are many approaches to setting goals. One is to be committed to doing your personal best and to focus on the following themes:

To clarify what you can control in the situation – rather than worry about what you can’t control – and to set your specific goals;

To clarify the real results you want to achieve and to translate these into a clear picture of success;

To clarify the specific benefits – to all the various stakeholders – of achieving the picture of success.

Imagine that you have gone through these steps. It can then be useful to do your due diligence and clarify the chances of delivering success.

This will involve clarifying whether: a) You have set an achievable goal; b) You will get the required support and resources; c) You have recognised challenges that could happen and know how to deal with these eventualities.

You can then do a success rating. Bearing in mind the things you can control, rate the chances of achieving the goal. Do this on a scale 0 – 10. You can then clarify the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the chances of delivering success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on these themes. This invites you to describe the specific task, activity or project where you would like to deliver a piece of great work. It then asks you to do the following things.

Describe the real results you want to achieve by doing this piece of great work.

Describe the specific benefits for delivering this piece of great work.

Describe the rating you would give regarding the chances of achieving the goals and the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the chances of success.

Doing the daily work

Peak performers recognise that it is vital to do the daily work – the necessary tasks and activities – to create the platform for doing the great work. Some people enjoy doing these tasks and they become part of their daily routine.

Problems can occur, however, if these chores take over and completely dominate their days. The person then has little time to do the deep work that may be necessary to deliver success.

Leaders encounter this challenge if they don’t create the right infrastructure or have the right people to make things work properly. The leaders may then spend their days filling the gaps or micromanaging people.

Great teams aim to deliver excellence. This often calls for building an engine – the right team of people and practices – that makes things work. This provides the platform for delivering ongoing success.

During the past 50 years I have worked with many people whose job has been to run the engine. These include Chief Operating Officers, coordinators and specialists.

Such operators recognise that their leaders often worry, so they need to make sure things work. The last thing they want is for the leaders to barge in and start fiddling with the engine. Good operators therefore do the following things:

They keep running the engine and making things work;

They keep building self-managing teams that continually improve the engine. 

They keep managing their CEO by showing they understand the world from the CEO’s point of view and they will make sure the engine provides the platform for both present and future success.

Imagine that you are a leader. How can you ensure the daily practical tasks get done? One approach is to get the right blend of people in your team. Let’s explore one way of making this happen.

There are many models for building fine teams. One approach is to get the right balance of entrepreneurs, experts and eager beavers. This is an approach that I have seen work in many pioneering companies.

Such companies are often led by entrepreneurial people. They then work with experts in specific fields. Their next step is to hire eager beavers who translate the innovation into implementation and deliver the desired impact.

Some companies make mistakes in their hiring process. The entrepreneurial founders hire lots of experts who are love innovation. This can lead to people producing many ideas but few being translated into action.

Great teams have lots of eager beavers who make things work properly. Such people often display some of the characteristics described below. They get things done.

Good leaders encourage such eager beavers. They also manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They often start by explaining the big picture – the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

They then make clear contracts about the contribution that the person can make towards delivering these goals. This means agreeing on the outcomes to be delivered, the overall strategies to be pursued and the support required.

The person then plays their part by performing superb work. They get some early wins and proactively keep people informed about their progress. They do whatever is required to deliver the agreed outcomes.

This approach works in teams, but what if you work as an individual?  Sometimes it can be hard to balance doing the daily work with the deep work. Let’s explore one approach.

Great workers build on their strengths and manage the consequences of their weaknesses. They do what they do best when tackling the daily tasks. They also find creative solutions to make sure the other chores get done.

Sometimes this means creating an infrastructure that works. Sometimes it means organising their days effectively so they can spend the appropriate time on the different types of work.

Sometimes it means capitalising on their strengths and going out to increase their income. They can then concentrate on what they do best and bring in people with complementary skills who deal with the daily tasks.

Great workers like to feel in control, be proactive and stay ahead of the game. This calls for looking ahead, anticipating the daily work and planning how to get it completed.

One approach is to set aside blocks of time devoted to doing these tasks. Sometimes this is not possible, of course, especially if the work requires responding to interruptions. One CEO I worked with described how they dealt with such issues.

I love to deep work – which is my equivalent of doing brain research – but sometimes in the past it felt like was working in Accident & Emergency. There were often client emergencies and other issues that broke up my day.

Looking ahead, I realised it was vital to hire people who enjoyed doing such tasks, but that would take time. Bearing this in mind, I reframed some of my work as going into role. 

I chose to move into the role of doctor in A&E. This made things easier to understand and I found some of the work satisfying. But I was glad when we recruited people who could take over fixing the daily tasks.  

Different people find different ways to encourage themselves when doing such chores. Some keep focusing on the big picture. They remind themselves of the great work they want to do and how the daily work will help them to achieve this picture of success.

Some get small successes along the way. They love making lists and get a kick from crossing-off each item that is completed. They then feel they are making progress towards achieving the big vision.

Great workers also find it beneficial to learn how to make transitions between different activities. They may be absorbed in doing deep work, for example, but then be interrupted. This can break their flow and cause resentment.

How to deal with such issues? One approach is to buy time to pause. It is to relax, refocus and rehearse what they are going to do next. They can then concentrate fully on tackling the issue successfully.

The same rule applies when transitioning from shallow work to deep work. They can go through their chosen ritual. They can relax, rehearse and then absorb themselves in doing the deep work.   

Let’s return to the piece of great work that you want to do. Looking ahead, what may be daily work it will be necessary to complete? How can you find ways of doing this successfully?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific task, project or activity where you would like to do great work. 

Describe the specific kinds of daily work – the necessary tasks and activities that will need to be done. 

Describe the specific things you can do to make sure this daily work gets completed successfully.

Doing the deep work

Peak performers often establish a rhythm of working that enables them to focus on doing deep work. They make good use of their prime times – the times of the day when they have most energy – and organise their time in blocks.

They take these steps so that:

They can prepare properly and follow their chosen rituals before embarking on doing the piece of work; 

They can immerse themselves fully, explore various avenues and sometimes make breakthroughs when doing the piece of work;

They can go into a state of flow, maintain their focus and finish successfully when doing the piece of work.

Peak performers aim to follow their chosen rhythm, but sometimes events throw them off course. As mentioned earlier, different people use different approaches to managing such transitions.

Some buy time to think, re-centre and rehearse what they are going to do next. They then focus on immersing themselves fully in the next activity. You can discover more about these methods via the following link.

Making Transitions

Cal Newport’s book inspired many people to develop techniques for doing deep work. Here is a video from The Book Video Club that introduces his book and also describes techniques people can use to do such work. You can discover more videos from their website via the following link.

https://bookvideoclub.com/

Let’s return to the piece of work you want to do. Looking ahead, how can you make sure you do the necessary deep work?  If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific task, project or activity where you would like to do great work.

Describe the specific kinds of deep work that need to be done on the way towards delivering great work.

Describe the specific things you can do to make sure this deep work gets done on the way towards delivering great work.

Doing the great work

Peak performers maintain high standards. They keep doing the right things in the right way when doing both the daily work and the deep work. They keep focusing on their purpose and principles on the way towards achieving the picture of success.

People who do great work often keep their eyes on the big picture. This is illustrated in the various versions of the frequently told Cathedral Story. Here is one version.

Three people were working on shaping stones. When asked what they were doing, each person gave different answers.

The first said: “I am cutting stones.”

The second said: “I am building a cathedral.”

The third said: “I am serving the glory of God.”

Different people have different definitions of great work. One approach is to learn from superb designers. They sometimes aim to produce work that is simple, satisfying and successful.

Great design is simple, but in a profound way. It is satisfying on many levels. It looks good, feels good and is user friendly. Great design also works. It is successful.

Simplicity is genius, we are told. Great teachers make complicated things simple. Art Fry’s invention of Post-it Notes demonstrated simplicity in action. So did the Sony Walkman and Apple Macintosh. Many educators pass on knowledge that embodies profound simplicity.

Superb design is satisfying on a number of levels. Physically it looks and feels good. Practically it works and is user friendly. There is an old Shaker dictum that says:

Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful;
but if it is both necessary and useful,
don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.

Good educators embody some of these elements when designing satisfying educational experiences. They follow the old belief that the learner learns what the learner wants to learn. They try to make the learning personal, practical and profitable.

Personal – The learning must relate to the person and their goals. 

Practical – The learning must be practical and provide tools that help the person to reach their goals.  

Profitable – The learning must be, in the widest sense, profitable and help the person to achieve their goals.

Great design is successful. It works and does the job. Terence Conran, a pioneer in design, explained this in the following way.

Good design is probably 98% common sense. Above all, an object must function well and efficiently – and getting that part right requires a good deal of time and attention.

Let’s return to the piece of great work you want to do. What are the real results you want to achieve? How can you do your best to achieve these results? What will be the specific things that will be happening that will show you will have delivered your definition of great work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific task, project or activity where you would like to do great work.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to deliver great work.

Describe the specific things that will be happening that will show you have delivered your definition of great work.

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