The majority of us multitask constantly at work and check our phones and emails every few minutes. Constant communication and immersion technology have made it nearly difficult for us to maintain concentration on the challenging problem-solving activities that advance our profession, with profound negative effects on both our productivity and well-being.
We spend a lot of our days on “shallow work,” such as responding to emails, Slack messages, manual admin tasks, and tool notifications. Our concentration is limited if we switch between these jobs frequently, which leads to feeling overwhelmed, unsatisfied, and unproductive. This also leads to a busy culture where we appear to work nonstop yet have nothing to show at the end of the day.
Deep work, on the other hand, offers rewards in terms of output, employability, and happiness. But what precisely is deep work, and is there any reality behind this trendy phrase associated with work philosophy?
What is Deep Work?
Deep work is a condition of intense focus that enables you to master challenging material and produce high-caliber work rapidly. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, written by computer science professor Cal Newport of Georgetown University, is where the term first appeared. Deep work, as defined by Newport in his book, is a mental state of complete focus during which your brain is operating at its peak capacity.
In other words, Newport’s deep work theory contends that to be genuinely productive, we should turn off all communication devices and work for extended periods every day without interruption. Therefore, strive for one to one and a half uninterrupted hours at a time even if you might need help to completely disconnect from your team communication tools.
Let’s face it, many of us have “email anxiety” and can’t spend more than 30 minutes without checking our email, messages, or tool notifications. We instantly respond to incoming requests, utilizing asynchronous tools synchronously, and pausing our work to check notifications or respond to an email or a message.
This has led to an increase in the passive nature of our digital interactions, which are now more focused on information consumption than on deliberate action. Our constant bustle is unpleasant and unfulfilling, and it dilutes the focus we have to devote to our work. It prevents us from considering what matters and if our efforts are genuinely helpful.
Deep work tries to address this specific issue. It’s a technique for regaining productive attention, being present for the task that counts, and working effectively.
The Advantages of Deep Work
Deep work may greatly increase your work production so that you can do more work faster without sacrificing quality. It has several advantages, some of which are listed:
Your total work or performance is enhanced by deep work. You may flourish in your job to the best of your ability or fulfill your full creative potential. Reaching your peak performance or maximum value output is satisfying since you are realizing your full potential as well as being excellent in and of itself.
Deep work eliminates distractions, allowing you to establish a routine and work more quickly. You can give your task your whole, undivided attention without being constantly reminded to check your email or text messages. You’ll gather momentum to do the work well and quicker than if you were distracted as you get more and more focused on completing your specified assignment.
Enhance Your Concentration
Deep work also induces a flow state, in which you become focused and perform at your best by focusing solely on the work at hand. This helps you sharpen your attention so you can do the task quickly and effectively without being distracted.
Boost Your Mood and Give You Power
Effortlessly doing high-quality work will undoubtedly increase your sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Spending time on shallow works not only depletes your time and resources for deep work, but it also is unfulfilling and of little value.
However, when you fight to finish a deep work activity that demands a lot of mental effort from you, you feel powerful knowing that you were able to finish the task or create work that was done to the best of your ability.
Study Deep Work and Put It Into Practice
A lot of us have either lost the ability to concentrate intensely on one subject at a time or never truly learned how to do it. You could have achieved success in school by focusing mostly on shallow work on a daily basis, with the rare deep work session occurring a few times each semester to finish last-minute assignments or study for a final test.
You must be more deliberate than ever in sitting down to focus on high-impact activities as you learn to master deep work. These approaches and operating principles will help you choose your favorite method of deep work, create a habit from start, and embrace the power of concentrated attention.
Pick Your Approach
Even if you are certain of the benefits of deep work, you might not know how to apply it to your daily activities. Newport describes the following four deep work scheduling options:
The Monastic Approach is the most committed type of deep work, requiring that you devote all of your working hours to a single, high-level subject. The majority of people who are forced to carry out multiple types of work in their employment find this concept impractical, although it offers the largest potential for reward and the lowest amount of context switching. The fact that your usual response to calls for commitments is “no” also stops you from seizing new opportunities.
The Bimodal Approach allows for a lot of deep work while letting you continue other worthwhile pursuits. You must have the freedom to divide your year, months, or weeks into more substantial pieces of deep work to successfully adopt this attitude.
The Rhythmic Approach is perfect for people that have a pretty predictable routine. It is possible to set aside a few hours each day for deep work, developing a regular “rhythm,” and leave the remaining hours for superficial work if you can predict how most of your days will go.
The Journalistic Approach is a choice for those whose days consist of little to no routine and who are always on the go. This approach requires being watchful with your time and having a great awareness of the natural ebbs and flows in your day when you might be able to squeeze in a half hour or an hour or two of deep work. Unfortunately, this approach is not for novices and is likely to fail for those who are not accustomed to deep work.
Choose the deep work approach that best fits your professional and personal circumstances. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to try many approaches before settling on one that truly works for your routine.
Establish a Schedule
To be successful with a deep work habit, you must practice using your time intentionally and plan when to schedule moments of concentration.
When developing a deep work routine, keep the following things in mind:
Location: Pick a place where you can concentrate for extended amounts of time without being distracted. If you can’t find a place like this, consider investing in some noise-canceling headphones that will keep out outside noise while you work and signal your brain when it’s time to concentrate. You’ll be able to enter deep work mode more quickly if you maintain consistency with your surroundings.
Duration: Establish a definite time commitment for the task at hand before beginning a deep work session. Start modest, with sessions of no more than 15 minutes, then progress to longer ones. The more you engage in deep work, the better your capacity to concentrate will get.
Structure: Determine what deep work mode looks like for you and establish structure. What about your phone, for instance—will it be on or off? Are you going to allow yourself to browse the internet? To obtain a snack, may you stroll to the kitchen? How will you evaluate the effectiveness of a session? Whichever rules you choose, be sure to make them clear and abide by them during your deep work session.
Requirements: You’ll figure out what you need to keep up your dedication to deep work after a few sessions of focused effort. A particular beverage, a certain kind of music, or access to a certain piece of software are examples of this. Always be prepared before starting something.
Engage in a Grand Gesture
Daily efforts at intense work might occasionally feel insufficient for a goal we’re pursuing. In this situation, Newport advises making a “grand gesture” :
For instance, if you’re working on a crucial project but are feeling limited or uninspired by your office environment, make a grand gesture and ask your manager to allow you to work from home for a whole week so you can finish it. Similar to how working on your paper for a whole day at a library is a drastic departure from working on it for 20 minutes at a time, is. You can accomplish more than you normally would by doing the grand gesture since it uses the novelty factor to your advantage. By making a shift to your usual routine, you may draw on your capacity to work profoundly more easily by making your mind aware of the significance of work.
Team Up With Others to Work
Working alone is frequently necessary when deep work is prioritized. However, collaboration with others can release the “serendipitous creativity” that we cannot frequently produce on our own. Fortunately, adopting a deep work practice does not exclude us from enjoying the advantages of teamwork. On the contrary, they brilliantly complement one another, allowing us to investigate topics we learned about from others in more depth while we were alone and in deep work mode. The error comes in trying to blend the two, which is frequently the argument for open-floor workplaces.
You may also engage in “collaborative deep work,” when you work on an issue with a partner and push each other to get excellent results. Collaboration is a potent tool that should be utilized frequently, even while time for solitary deep work is still crucial and something companies should value.
Behave as a large corporation
Newport explains the ideas from the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. Even while these tactics are geared toward businesses, individuals should also give them some thought.
Discipline 1. Ensure that you pay attention to what is very important: During your deep work hours, concentrate your efforts on your most important objectives. Keep your main goals top-of-mind to make it simpler to overlook side diversions that don’t advance your long-term ambitions. To remember your main priorities, try posting sticky notes with a list of them on your desk.
Discipline 2. Apply the lead measures: Although you can try to increase your lagging measure, it can be more beneficial to optimize your lead measure. You’ll naturally be better able to achieve your goals if you increase the number of hours you spend each week in a state of focused concentration.
Discipline 3. Keep an Eye-Catching Scoreboard: To stay motivated, keep track of the number of hours you spend working deeply and post your tracking wherever you can see it. Newport advises maintaining a written record of the number of hours you devote to deep work.
Discipline 4. Set up a system of accountability: Keep your promise to yourself by agreeing to daily or weekly evaluations of your progress if you don’t have an accountability partner. Review your scorecard and analyze any potential reasons why you might not be reaching your desired results. It might be time to exert more effort if you are easily surpassing them.
Focus on downtime
The deep work strategy includes consideration of your post-work activities as well as your workday. Newport offers convincing arguments for why having little leisure while working long hours might be harmful to developing a profound work practice. The importance of making downtime a priority stems from the fact that “regular brain rest increases the quality of your deep work.”
Time to Think More Clearly: Have you ever experienced a setback at work, vented your frustrations at the end of the day, and then returned the following day with the right answer? The pause’s strength lies in this. You can solve difficult problems more clearly when you give your mind some downtime rather than trying to solve them immediately.
Downtime Helps restore Our Capability to Concentrate: Avoid concentrating on high-priority chores after work. Give your mind an uninterrupted break instead by engaging in activities like visiting with friends or family, cooking, or going for a walk in the park. Contrarily, slipping in extra emails or chat sessions prevents you from getting any genuine slumber.
Our Capacity is Limited: Although deep work is extremely useful, it cannot be done indefinitely. Four hours is what Newport proposes as the daily maximum for deep work. Our capacity to focus our attention narrows after this point. This means that you have plenty of time in the evening to schedule the relaxation that will support your deep work sessions the very next day.
Techniques to Improve Capability
Two strategies to improve your capacity are as follows:
Plan out your day’s activities
You must plan your day according to a tested method to reduce time spent and boost productivity.
To strengthen your focus muscle, practice mindfulness
A further key element to enhancing deep work is mindfulness. By refocusing and recharging your mind, mindfulness enables you to think clearly and quickly.
You may generate your finest work in less time by using the superpower of deep work. Although, in theory, sounds fantastic, regular practice, regularity, and dedication are necessary to perfect it to improve your attention and work output.
You shouldn’t have to sacrifice the quality of your work or relaxation just because you have a hectic life.