Strategizing and creating/designing systems from scratch, and reviewing the system after a period of time being used, is a deep work activity. Deeming is another very deep activity, as it requires a decent amount of prioritizing and affects the whole team very directionally.
When it comes to developing individuals on the team, a manager needs to carefully study the individual before sitting with them and giving them undivided attention. Proper coaching is a very deep activity which needs a high level of honing skills and development. Building a team also entails the careful study of each individual member, assessing the chemistry between them and it isn’t a managerial activity that can be done on the go.
Analyzing and problem solving are very deep managerial work activities, and lead me to my next illustrative point. I once attended a session called Quantified Self in London and was introduced to this man who was obsessed with tracking any and all activities he did. If he found that he was repeating any activity more than three times, he would stop and carry out a root cause analysis to get to the bottom of what was causing him to repeat the activity more than three times.
This is a useful deep work activity I applied in my own work, managing a micro school. To overcome the problem of new parents asking lots of questions each year, I decided to develop some videos explaining everything they need to understand about how the school works. I understood this is a problem we will face again and again, so I can hire someone, create a system/process, automate the process or outsource it. In this case, I outsourced the process to existing parents and quelled the repetitive annual activity.
Daniel Priestley expands upon this point in his book 24 Assets by arguing that a very good metric companies should be maximizing is revenue by employee and how to improve it, which usually happens through automating any task that happens more than three times. This frees the employee up to do more things. In other words, as managers, we can improve the revenue per employee by creating digital assets. These can be brand philosophy documents, creating better systems, even excel sheets to collect and communicate information.
Personally, I believe managers should be always thinking about creating more effective digital assets and my time at PepsiCo illustrates the beauty of digital assets perfectly. During my time there, I was working on a model to estimate how much glass we needed to purchase for the bottles from three different glass companies. It was a great model and before building it, the process was taking an enormous amount of negotiating time between different parties and top management. Once the model was built, the whole process became way easier. I believe creating a digital asset is one of the most important functions a manager should thrive to do.
This doesn’t mean managers have to make the digital assets themselves. The work can be delegated and carried out by other people, but after completion the manager will have to employ ‘deep’ work time to analyze the model critically and give it uninterrupted attention, putting their cognitive abilities to the limits so they can evaluate the systems and assets which will be used in the future.