Have you ever wondered how people manage to do it all? Between work emails, laundry, learning a new skill,
trying to fit in time to hit the gym, and actually starting on those dream projects of yours,
it can be quite a challenge to get things done.
And that’s where our typical 21st-century habits tend to sabotage us, as we constantly respond
to notifications and try to tackle five things at once.
So what’s the solution?
In his 2016 bestselling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,
Cal Newport proposes an idea that can change the way you work to achieve your goals.
What is Deep Work?
Cal Newport defines deep work as:
"The ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time."
Essentially, deep work is the ability to focus on meaningful work without distraction.
How to Get Better at Deep Work
The premise of deep work is that you have a limited amount of willpower that decreases as you
‘spend’ it. In order to get things done, create routines that limit the amount of decisions
you need to make. By doing so, you can use the energy you spend on deciding what to do on
actually beginning your work with focus. Eventually, it gets easier and easier to enter a state of deep work,
and it becomes a habit.
Online to Offline
One of the biggest distractions we have is the internet. Newport suggests predetermining
when you will use the internet, and avoiding distracting websites and apps the rest of the time.
For example, set one hour each day when you will check and reply to any emails, messages, and
social media texts. Don’t check your notifications at all during the rest of the time.
Have you ever finished a task in just a few hours to meet a deadline? Yet without the deadline,
it can take you weeks?
The amount of time to get work done is like air in a box. Whether you have a small box or a big
one, the amount of air fits accordingly. Similarly, whether you give yourself one hour or one day,
the amount of time you need to finish off a task will adjust accordingly.
Set strict deadlines for yourself to get more work done faster. This sense of urgency gives you
less time to zone out or get distracted.
Remove Shallow Work
Most of our time is spent on shallow work, rather than on deep work. How often have you sat down
to work, then checked your email, picked up your phone, added a row on Excel, and then realized
that three hours have passed and you haven’t made any real progress on your goals?
Shallow work doesn’t require full concentration and doesn't move the needle. At the end of the
day, shallow work takes up your time but doesn’t result in any tangible results.
It’s impossible to completely remove shallow work from your day; there will always be an email
to answer or laundry to do. The goal here is to minimize shallow work and prioritize the amount
of time spent on deep work.
Make Space for Productive Meditation
Practice productive meditation when you are physically occupied but your mind is free, such as
commuting, washing dishes, or showering.
Rather than consuming content, like listening to a podcast or catching up on a show, use this
time to focus your mind on solving a professional problem or working out a concept. Try to
spend some time in productive meditation two to three times a week.
Finally, using the strategies listed above, time block your schedule. Divide your day into
blocks, and batch similar tasks together. Set specific times that you dedicate to deep work.
In conclusion, practicing the art of deep work will not only make you more productive, but it
also gives you a coveted skill in the hectic, distraction-filled 21st century lifestyle.
"Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive 21st-century economy." — Cal Newport