Deep work. It’s a period of focused concentration that enables you to do the significant, creative, and, ultimately, fulfilling work that moves your business forward. Think of an elite swimmer committed to making their nation’s Olympic team. They’re fully engaged during training, doing the work that will produce meaningful results.
In his 2016 book Deep Work, Cal Newport teaches readers the benefits of “focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” Imagine accessing a state of heightened effectiveness and productivity at will.
Serial entrepreneur Alicia Navarro did just that. Her long-standing interest in human potential aligned nicely with the research Newport presents in Deep Work. So, Alicia envisioned–then built–FLOWN, a business that can unlock deep work for all of us.
Email Is Important and a Distraction
A decade before learning about deep work, Alicia was founder-CEO of Skimlinks, an international advertising tech company. And e-mail was driving Alicia to her breaking point. She recalls “drowning” in emails, frequently wading through hundreds of messages to find important work or personal emails.
Alicia was running a company. Hours that she could have used to move the needle for the business were under siege by her constantly overflowing email inbox. Every email ping (or instant message, text, or social media alert) interrupts your train of thought.
Messages and tasks multiply in your inbox the longer you stay away, causing anxiety and fatigue. It’s strangely tempting to stop what you’re working on to reply to an email rather than do the harder work of thinking through a complex business problem, for example. Returning an email makes you feel you’ve accomplished something, even if that accomplishment is of little value. It is the enemy of deep work.
“It wasn’t tenable, and I was desperate,” Alicia remembers. “My co-founder suggested SaneBox, and as soon as I found it, I was in love.” SaneBox’s artificial intelligence-powered message sorting became a cornerstone of Alicia’s work. SaneBox steers non-essential emails to her SaneLater folder, which Alicia checks a couple of times a day. Unsolicited emails fall into Alicia’s SaneNews folder. Alicia checks it once a day for messages she’s interested in, then delights in “deleting everything else.”
SaneBox hasn’t just improved her workflow. “It changed my life,” Alicia tells us.
Creating Conditions That Make Deep Work Possible
When a marketing platform for online retailers acquired Skimlinks in 2020, Alicia embarked on a new adventure with a new title: nomadic businesswoman. She traveled and worked remotely in Spain and France for three months.
That’s when she found Deep Work. It sparked the idea for her current business, FLOWN, an online toolkit designed to get users into the ideal mental state for deep work. Alicia’s background in computer science allowed her to envision tools that would make the experience of deep work more accessible.
To run a business dedicated to deep work, you must be able to do deep work yourself. As founder-CEO of FLOWN, Alicia thinks a lot about how her organization communicates. “We created a comms policy to help us all achieve deep work and collaborate effectively while being a remote team.”
The policy specifies how FLOWN uses internal communications tools. “We use Slack for immediate back-and-forth comms. We use Notion for knowledge management and co-creation of content. Email is what we mandate for anything that requires attention–but we ask our team to provide context and clear calls to action, to reduce unnecessary back and forth emails.”
The policy is clear, sensible, and mindful that results matter. “One of our cultural values is ‘Appreciate effort but celebrate outcomes,’“ Alicia shares, “which means we are very outcome-focused.” FLOWN values tools that help them achieve desired outcomes.
Embracing Knowledge and Tools That Enable Success
SaneBox is a business focused on productivity. Alicia calls herself a “huge advocate of SaneBox.” She acknowledges “email is important, but as the CEO of a deep-work-centric business, her “prioritized task list is even more important.” Alicia’s policy: “I only get to email once I have gotten through my key tasks of the day.”
The control SaneBox gives Alicia over her inbox profoundly contributes to her and her organization’s mission. “If the founder of a deep work company can’t achieve deep work, how can they lead their company? I’m a better leader because I lead by example. I take active steps to focus on the subset of things that matter and SaneBox is my primary tool to achieve that.”
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