Focus time metrics – How to measure your employees’ deep work & multiple context work
General business | Specialist | Expert

Focus time metrics – How to measure your employees’ deep work & multiple context work

With the number of technologies surrounding us, it’s clear as day that we live in a world of constant interruptions. As we try to focus on deep work, we’re repetitively lured by countless ads and notifications designed to drive us away. This has only amplified as many of us have moved to a remote or hybrid work model.

In this piece, I’d like to discuss two metrics that can help you ensure your employees’ deep focus time is on the safe side. Namely, we’ll look at the deep work time and how it overlaps with multiple context work.

Focus time - 2 quantitative workplace analytics focus time metrics

Maintaining a balance between deep work vs context switching

To give you a sense of the challenge we’re looking at, let’s refer to a report by the Conference Board. According to a survey they conducted with 330 HC executives in the fall of 2020, 63% admitted that they’ve seen the number of meetings skyrocket during the lockdown. As many as 60% also reported that there has been an increase in the working hours among their staff. 

Uber has referred to these numbers in a webinar in April 2021, stating that they themselves noted a -1.3x decrease in focus time. Their People Analytics team were able to bring these numbers back under control by two measures – educating employees about the importance of focus time and enabling them to test & learn. 

Among others, Uber has analyzed business productivity metrics jointly with employee surveys, realizing that employees are a good judge of their own sustainability and deep work conditions. Next, they have taught their staff several deep work and multiple context work best practices (such as blocking time for deep work). As a result, they’ve seen the same productivity levels pertain all the while increasing the perceived sustainability of working conditions twice-fold.

Let’s now see how you can calculate deep work and multiple context work yourself.

Deep work and multiple context work (context switching)

Deep work – metric

Deep work relates to the time employees dedicate each day to tasks without being interrupted in the process. We believe that companies should aspire to create an environment of at least 10 hours of uninterrupted work per week, per employee (i.e., 2 hours per day). 

However, given the numbers we’ve seen in our analysis in the Network Perspective platform, the reality is that it’s unattainable for most organizations. We thus recommend qualifying any slots of at least 60 minutes of undisrupted work as ‘deep work time’.

To calculate the deep work time for your company, refer to your employees’ calendars and  look at the time between various events. How many of these slots are at least 60 minutes long?

Let’s now look at multiple context work.

Multiple context work – metric

To calculate the multiple context work, take into account the time you spend on activities which take under an hour to finalize (on a weekly basis). Check how long each one takes and add them up – don’t ignore even the smallest tasks which take 15 or 30 minutes to do. Subsequently, group similar tasks together, like sending emails – you can decide to respond to emails solely at 4 pm instead of replying to every single one instantly. Such an approach will leave you more time for focus work. 

With all that in mind, let’s answer a question:

Why can these metrics be tricky and how to avoid mistakes in measuring and interpreting them? 

In the case of deep work, there are a few reasons. For starters, you can’t see how many emails & messages were sent during the, seemingly, >60-minute long time streaks. And emails should also be counted as deep work time interruptions. 

Secondly, if you calculate the empty time slots only, you could be missing calendar events especially reserved for deep work. This means you should look at all events where there is a single attendant. As you can see, the number of deep work hours is not enough to give you genuine results. We also recommend cross-referring it with time slots reserved for multiple context work, where your employees get the chance to complete smaller tasks in bulk.

In the case of multiple context work, it can be challenging to calculate it properly, if you fail to spot the small time slots that are left empty in the calendar. You should start off by subtracting deep work from individual work time, and – next – count the time left between calendar events. Given that people spend 10 hours a week, on average, answering emails, you can assume that part of the empty slots in the calendar is dedicated to multiple context work.

How can modifying collaboration design based on the above data impact your business?

The fewer multiple-context interruptions we’re exposed to, and the more time we have for deep focus work, the better. Remember that deep work is the main factor impacting productivity. Thus being, try to organize your work day in such a way to have all your meetings during the first or second part of the day to be able to focus on deep work for the remaining time. The same goes for multiple context work – it’s worth reserving a time slot in the calendar to get them done at once. In terms of team collaboration – make sure to sync with each other daily, however, for no more than 4 hours. 

Final remarks

As we’ve discussed above, deep work and multiple context time are two metrics that let you assess productivity and perceived sustainability among employees. They are best analyzed jointly, as they give you an overview of the deep work/multiple context work time and point to any areas that require improvement.

If you’d like to see how you can effectively measure your focus time metrics for various teams, reach out. Network Perspective offers you a bird’s eye view of your teams and organization so you can increase efficiency and collaboration.

September 22, 2021

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