I recently started reading The Joy of Work by Bruce Daisley where he talks about the concept of Monk Hours. These are protected times in the week to allow you and your team to undertake some deep thinking, to really get into your creative divergent thinking mode or allow for some uninterrupted writting. Monk Hours are especially important in modern workplaces with busy open plan sites with access to limited quite areas. So how can we all go about creating realistic Monk Hours in our workplaces? Here's a few ideas I've either done or seen working for others;
Create protected Monk Hours
This is a option discussed by Bruce Daisley where you effectively block out time in your calendar, usually at the same time each week, to allow you to focus on your deep work. If you also need long stretches of silence then this could also be a few hours or a day that you also try to work from home. I recently attended a CityParents event where a lady has converted her whole team to working from home one day per week. The aim was to meet a colleague need but also reduce down office costs. Colleagues generally don't book meetings on those days and really focus on more technical work such as report writting and also more creative divergent tasks looking at long term strategy.
In order for Monk Hours to work you may need to play around with when your deep thinking hours are and work with your manager to understand why you are blocking that time out of your calendar. Once you feel you hav a good handle on your optimal Monk Hours then it's time to communicate what your plans are so that people understand how contactable or not you are during those hours. For example will you turn off all e-mail or just notifications, will you answer calls or only urgent client calls. Getting the fit that is right for both you, your team and your stakeholders is critical. Finally it is important to provide some flexibility around your Monk Hours to meet client urgent work or meetings.
Re-Evaluate your view of your calendar
Another less extreme version of Monk Hours is to be more strategic in how you accept meeting invites. This idea comes from Laura Vanderkamp in her book Off the Clock where she highlights that we generally think of any unbooked time in our calendar as free time, waiting for others to fill it. As I highlighted in my blog post about re-evaluating your calendar assuming that all time 'free' in our calendars is available for future meetings devalues our view of our time and the real value of the work you are being paid to produce. Unless you work in sales the number of meetings you have is unlikely to have a direct corrolation to your productivity, and may in fact produce the opporsite as you try to squeeze in work between meetings.
Be more strategic about accepting meetings. Really understand why you need to attend and what you will contribute. If possible try to chuink your meetings into one particular day or time of day when you have more social energy. Another important thing to remember is that meeting invites usually come set with the most convenient time/day for requester and you do have the power can change that, especially if there are only a small number of participants.
Learn to 'Chunk' your day
Each time you move between different types of tasks you are using mental energy. Shifting too often between different types of tasks can led to mental exhaustion. One way to reduce this mental strain is to chunk your day into different types of mental availability. While not exactly creating protected Monk hours it does mean you are using your discretionary energy more wisely, reducing your mental shifting and increasing your overall potential energy for the day. This may mean being more strategic about accepting meetings and also working in different locations in your office at different times of the day, if possible.
Finally whatever your version of Monk Hours ends up being learning the importance of creating microboundaries is the single most immportant thing you can do give yourself space and time to focus on deeper work. A good place to start is turning off e-mail notifications, something that Bruce Daisely suggests and I started trying a month ago. I still actively look at my e-mails each hour but between those set times I focus on the task at hand. This has been such a revelation to me because I wasn't sure it would work for me in a internal and external stakeholder facing role but I can say it has really given me back both time and concentration. When I do look at my e-mails I am better able to prioritise them and don't feel an impending feeling of panic around the sheer quanitity of them. I also feel at the end each day I've used my discretionary effort on deeper work and not just e-mail management.
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.