Finding joy in the routine work of a CEO isn’t easy, but isn’t impossible either. Here’s my way.
I’m CEO of Divante, an eCommerce Software House which is growing by double digits every year (this year 30%+ YoY). We’ve also developed two fast-growing startups (Open Loyalty, and Mobile-First Commerce Vue Storefront) – these two grow by double digits every month. So with about 200 people, 50+ clients, and 2 of our own products, I am very busy all the time.
At some point, I lost the energy and fun in my work. I was constantly online, checking my email every 30 min, 24/7. I lied to myself that I will rest some day. Then I realized that this is just stupid, and when this day finally comes, it will be very hard for me to change my habits and just start enjoying life 🙂 I realized I can change my habits now. Because, why not?
I started to look for a solution. I’ve read some cool books and I’ve changed my working style.
Books I’ve read (from the most interesting to less interesting)
- Deep work by Cal Newport
- Make time by Jake Knapp
- Solve for happy by Mo Gowdat
- It doesn’t have to be crazy at work by Jason Fried and Daid Heinemeier Hansson
Outcome: fewer distractions & Deep Working
After some experimentation, I have found a model which is working for me. I’ve found joy in my everyday work, I feel that I’m much more productive and I got some good feedback from my colleagues. I also feel less stressed and I have many more cool ideas than before.
Limit all distractions
The smartphone is killing you, kill it instead!
Really. I realized I spend a lot of time constantly checking social apps and just clicking like a zombie from one social app to another. I decided to delete all the apps. I use communicators only. I also use social media when needed – but only on the desktop.
I also turned off all notifications.
This part was quite easy. What was not easy? To delete the biggest enemy… the email app. I knew I should do this but I was really afraid. What if something happens, what if I don’t respond to the email fast enough? Finally, I deleted the app as an experiment.
The first day was… strange… I was unlocking my phone just to realize there is nothing to do there… it was like re-writing my mind. The next day was much better and then I just forgot that I had been using these apps at all.
The time I spent on my mobile phone dropped by 30 min every day! What is most important – I save not only this time every day, I save myself from being distracted. This constant checking what’s new was blocking my creativity and deep-thinking abilities. I still read a lot on my iPad during the weekends and I listen to podcasts and audiobooks all the time, but my daily usage of the smartphone is now 50% lower than before.
Deep Work Day
I’ve read so much about Deep Work I was sure this is something worth pursuing.
I changed my work schedule to find a long period of time when I can focus on important things. These are my Deep Work Days. Finding such time is now very easy for me but I had to reorganize a lot to achieve that.
I’ve moved all my statuses to Monday, which makes my Monday quite intense but it is also quite cool to know that that is what Monday is for so I need to focus on these meetings, and I will not lie to myself that I could do anything more. Then I don’t feel stressed during these statuses and I can focus more.
I’ve moved all meetings to Friday. The same attitude. With meetings, it’s not so easy for me so I also have a slot for a daily telco’ from 3 pm to 4 pm. This is the last hour of my working day. This allows me to schedule an important meeting fast.
With these limitations, I’m thinking twice about every new meeting – do I really need this? Or maybe I should just write a longer email 🙂
Thanks to these changes, I’m able to spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on deep work. This is not about being very strict. I tell myself that 3 days is a “Good To Have” level and if 50% of the time I have only 2 days, I’m still fine with this.
During deep work, I try not to check my email and I focus only on my work. I have been able to move on with many projects thanks to this.
I informed all my colleagues about my new attitude. If there is something really, really important they can send me an SMS and I call them back. Guess what? I haven’t received any SMS so far. It looks like I wasn’t as indispensable as I supposed I was. Great!
I think that this is also helping my people to work better, without being disrupted by my email all day.
Pick only one highlight
When you have your deep work time, you need to decide how you spend it, right? I tried many things and for me, the method I describe below works the best.
According to Divante’s OKRs, I created a list of important tasks/projects that I should take care of. Nineteen projects on the list right now. For example: implement NPS across all projects, plan and execute an innovation day for one client, figure out how to approach financial clients with a PWA technology offer.
Then, for each day of my deep work, I pick only one highlight. This is one of the tasks/projects leading to an OKR implementation. During that day, I focus solely on that. I put this highlight in my Google Calendar (I even created a repetitive event for that to remind me to start the highlight and not to start my Deep Work Day before that). Maybe I will also work on different tasks during that day but this one highlight is the most important topic for my day and I will be happy if I complete this task. Only then will I be sure I spent the day productively.
I pick my highlight before the Deep Work Day. Sometimes at the beginning of the week, sometimes just a day before. The highlight can change and this is also OK. It’s important for me to be sure I’m getting closer to our KPIs every day I spend on deep work.
Boring is OK
Eliminating Smartphone Addiction and picking one very concrete, but not so obvious task for each day will sooner or later put you in the position where you have nothing to do. You could just be stuck and may need time to find a solution, or maybe you go for a walk, or just sit as there is nothing to do. You will feel bored. This is amazing! Just let yourself be bored. Then you will uncover your best ideas – you let your mind work on things that are there but are usually covered by urgent issues.
During the last few weeks, I have had days when I just sat and let myself think for a hour. Before, this was even hard to imagine. Now, I’d say it’s an amazing feeling. 🙂
I think it’s super important to avoid filling this time with distractions like TV, radio or whatever. Just celebrate the moment for a while.
So components of Deep Work really changed how I work and feel. This is not very complex or sophisticated. I tried many things from the books listed above, and I have found this works best for me You probably need to test it for yourself, and make some adjustments, but it is totally worth it.
ps. If you like to work as I described, we are still recruiting at Divante :)