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Note: this article was originally posted in January before remote work was truly the thing/norm. At the time we already wrote that remote sprints were a more effective, faster, better for the environment and enjoyable process. But the argument of being an office was still strong. Now that’s been debunked, we’ve updated the article.

Plus, we now call Deep Work Sprints, THE HYPERSPRINT.

If you could do exceptional product design and group problem solving in the fraction of the time, eliminating boring discussions and bad software development, would you be interested in learning more about it?

Screenshot of ten people working really efficiently on a Hypersprint 🤩

Cal Newport’s Deep Work is an exceptional toolkit for focused results as an individual. I wanted to combine his principles with the latest iterated design sprint and agile methodologies. To create a focussed process where we get the technical experts of a field designing products. It cuts the shallow work of teams and agencies to get to product market fit, fast.

At Deep Work Studio we call the process, The Hypersprint.

Hypersprints give you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and user reactions.

At Deep Work, we’ve run over thirty Deep Work Sprints with large companies such as ConsenSys, to startups such as Hummingbot and Ramp, and consulted big teams at Google, Bain&Co., and McKinsey. Here’s what I’ve learnt over the last eight months combining human centred design, business strategy and technical innovation.

Iterating Google Venture’s Design Sprints

At Devcon 2018 — the Ethereum annual developers conference — I was on the hunt for product designers. I’d been working freelance designing blockchain interfaces for a year and wanted to scale up. By the end of the conference I’d given up finding a design or business partner. As I was taking my last startup swag at an evening event, there was Andrej, taking as many t-shirts as socially acceptable.

Fast forward over a year, Andrej and I have run over thirty Deep Work Sprints*. I was skeptical of Andrej’s claim we could run Sprints remotely. I’ve come round, having found:

  • Working via zoom and an online whiteboard is intense → a good intense, everyone remains focused on the task.
  • The process is faster than in an office with whiteboards → no moving around or physical post-its.
  • It’s environmentally and human friendly → nobody is travelling across the globe on flights and in most cases, working from home.
  • We can work across multiple time zones and locations → We have more experts involved, solving problems better.

Deep Work Sprints allow for collaborative deep work to solve exciting problems…

Combining Design Sprints with my Deep Work Obsession

Since reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work**, I’m obsessed with the idea of working in a state of distraction free concentration, feedback loops and pushing my cognitive and creative ability. My main motivation is to do more meaningful work in less time. Using the spare time to increase my health and happiness.

My first attempts before meeting Andrej were ok. I’d managed to batch Deep Work and Shallow Work time and implemented some basics to remove distractions (email at certain times at day). My motivation was to work less and have more time for exercise and being outdoors (hiking, kitesurfing, paddle-boarding). Creating a studio, with design sprints as the product, took this to another level. The strict process removed my biggest flaw — Parkinson’s Law — I inflated the task or project to the amount of time the client gave me.

During our sprint process we have two days to produce a high-fidelity prototype***.

*** Shots of just one page of some high-fidelity prototypes. Designed in Sketch or Figma.

After designing thirty different products in eight months, I’ve learnt some interesting lessons:

Designing in short sessions produces better results

We *could* do the prototype in a day. Like a muscle, Deep Work can only do some many repetitions before exhaustion. After four hours of focused design, the results of pushing pixels and my speed exponentially decreases. One sprint we had a weekend to do a prototype. I experimented designing over two shorter sessions rather than one day. Two days of four hours, produced significantly better results than eight hours in one day.

Deep Work is more fun and you can work intensely for endless periods of time

At first, we did sprints in intense four day periods. By the end of four days of eight hours of non-distracted work, I needed a four day break. We now work in six day sprints at four hours a day. The results have improved, I exercise everyday, I can do a sprint back to back. Overall I love my work more than ever. Clients get four hours of us at our peak, rather than a freelancer at eight hours of mediocre.

Sprints are designers feedback loop dream

You receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.

“By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits — effectively cementing the skill.”

My visual design has become on leaps and bounds in the period of of eight months. What used to take me working through the weekend to make sure we had something of high quality, can now be done in a day. We use the extra time to iterate and improve each design even further.

My theory is I’ve gained the same amount of experience that takes a typically design contractor ten years. A standard contractor works on 2–3 long term projects a year. It’s not until the end of a project they get to properly retrospect. At the end of each sprint, we’ve had user feedback on our designs, criticised them ourselves and I’ve asked myself how could I have worked faster. A feedback loop every design sprint has meant thirty projects. The same amount of feedback would take a contractor ten years. Add in the projects at the start of the decade would be irrelevant from the end and I can see why my skills and ability have increased beyond my imagination.

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain. The core components of deliberate practice are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.” — Cal Newport

Individual Deep Work becomes Collaborative Deep Work

The Deep Work Hypothesis:

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” — Cal Newport

Giving teams these skills is central to our value. The collaborative sessions of the Sprint are Deep Work. Getting teams to produce at peak level with full concentration on a single task.

The technical experts are in the creative process and own the product.

Cal Newport’s book focuses on how to do work as an individual, our process gets up to ten individuals all doing Deep Work, at the same time to solve the same problem.

“[Carl] Jung’s approach is what I call the bimodal philosophy of deep work. This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.” — Cal Newport

Everything is structured into four hour a day sessions with short breaks. There is no time for anything else and the Sprint feels intense. Using this structure we’ve found some interesting optimisations for collaborative Deep Work:

Four hours is the optimum amount of focused group collaboration a day

We could produce a higher quality of work, keep teams engaged and enjoying the process by doing three days of collaboration, four hours a day. Rather than compressing into two days.

The sprints get people with deep technical expertise and skill designing products together

The result of aligning and merging the groups solutions produces amazing results in a mere few days. The sprint allows for a creative exchange with the technical experts behind a product. Rather than a designer scratching the surface during research, designing something without technical knowledge and getting stuck in endless feedback loops to get the desired result.

Collaborative Deep Work allows growth and happiness

Internally we our health first. Before work we prioritise mental wellbeing and exercise. Using the Sprint structure to our work, we’ve adapted it to work over six days. This means we do roughly four hours of deep work (on the sprint) and one hour of shallow (admin and marketing) per day. Only five hours a day (although exceptionally more results than eight) means we have more time for personal pursuits and exercise. Meaning we’re happy. Side effects include increased productivity and creativity.

Group work minimises wastage

The sprint cuts development expenses significantly. The cost is exponentially lower than a traditional build, launch, feedback and recorrect loop. This is because the product planning includes user feedback. Meaning no code is wasted on features uses don’t want or need.

Conclusions

The Deep Work Sprint allows for collaborative skillsets to solve problems in an incredible amount of time. The solutions are a perfect combination of scientific process and creativity. Moving focused Deep Work from an individual pursuit, to a team’s superpower.

Further Reading

Cal Newport’s Deep Work — It’s a goldmine of how to make yourself more valuable in today’s economy. If you want to go a step further, Why Skills Trump Passion is a great book to find out what to do with your work life. The most interesting and valuable people we meet on sprints are those who have devoted themselves to a deep technical skill.

Jake Knapp’s Sprint Book — great for an overview of running your own Design Sprint. If you want deeper reading on the iteration of the process for remote teams and deep work, see any of Andrej’s blog posts.

Jeff Sutherlands Scrum — gives a great background to the how and why of agile software development. Many of his principles go into Design Sprints and how we work as an agency. Worth a read to understand the why behind the most often used development methodology.

Exponential Organisations — describes how the organisations of the future are based on values.

Creativity, Inc. — Optimising teams for creativity at Pixar.

Community

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