According to Cal Newport, Deep work is the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”
Why is Deep Work Valuable?
This skill is becoming increasingly rarer at the same time that it is becoming increasingly more valuable. This is a skill needed especially by knowledge workers, or those who work in a field that requires cognitive thinking, rather than physically demanding work. Deep work is also valuable because it allows a person to provide higher quality work in a shorter amount of time. In Newport’s book, Deep Work, he provided this equation:
HIGH QUALITY WORK PRODUCED = TIME SPENT X INTENSITY OF FOCUS
For example, if you spend 2 hours working on a project without distraction (i.e. cell phone, messages, emails, etc.) you should accomplish more than you would working the same number of hours but with those distractions.
Strategies to Start Deep Work
With this method, you’re essentially creating a habit where you schedule a task you need to do each day. The idea is to schedule the task, and for each day you don’t complete it, you must mark a large X on your calendar. Another method is to schedule deep work during a certain time each day, whether it’s for 30 minutes or 3 hours.
The concept for this style comes from journalists, who are trained to quickly shift into a work mode based on deadlines. This style of deep work requires much of your deep work willpower, as it is more exhausting than the Rhythmic method. This also requires a high level of confidence in your abilities; in other words, you must know that you have the capacity and ability to accomplish the task at hand.
Tips and Tricks for Deep Work
Schedule breaks from focus.
Deep work, when done correctly, is exhausting for your mind. As Newport puts it, “You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. Your will is not a manifestation of your character… It’s instead like a muscle that tires.” Even professionals who have an extensive practice in deep work can only work deeply for about 4 hours. It’s important to schedule times to take breaks so you aren’t overloading your mind.
Personally, my favorite tool is the use of time blocks when working. Scarcity mindset is a huge factor in what pushes me into the mindset of deep work. When using this tool, I typically set up a visible timer, put in my earbuds and remove myself from external distractions, and I go for it. The scarcity mindset allows me to eliminate any ideas that aren’t fully benefiting the overall goal of the project – some of my best work comes from time blocking. Beware, this does require a large amount of your willpower. One of my first successful time blocks was a 2-hour block for two posters and a logo – I didn’t work for the rest of the day, but it gave me one of my favorite campaigns.
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously ween your mind from a dependence on distraction…you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.” One of the most important rules of deep work goes beyond work, and into your daily life. When we wire ourselves for distraction, we crave it at all times of the day. It’s crucial to practice embracing boredom throughout the day, or else you risk continuous distraction while you’re working. How? Leave your phone behind. It’s tempting, your mind will thank you for the 2-minute break as you microwave your breakfast. Don’t jump on your phone throughout the day, and be leery with multitasking. Surprise! Multitasking requires you to stay distracted from one task, which lowers your ability to work deeply.
Schedule Your Day
When you schedule your day, you become more aware and conscious of how valuable each minute is. When scheduling your day, group together small tasks such as laundry or dishes, be liberal with your task blocking and adjust the time blocks when needed. The idea isn’t to control each moment but to just be aware of how you’re spending your day. When you do these simple tasks, you increase your ability to focus and work deeper.
Deep work is valuable to our economy and has the power to help anyone become a more productive worker. Having the skill of deep work provides the opportunity for a person to focus on their tasks and duties without distraction. This ability is growing increasingly more important in today’s society of constant connection. Working deeply allows you to push the boundaries of creativity or shallow thinking, and reach further into the depths of innovation. With these tips and tools, you have the opportunity to become an avid deep worker, and in turn, you will be more productive without using as much time of your day to accomplish the tasks you want or need. If this style of work really interests you, I would highly recommend reading Deep Work: rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport. After each chapter, reflect on what you read and try to come up with solutions on how you can implement it into your own life.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport: Buy it here.