Deep work is increasingly popular as a concept for productivity and effective time management.
If you’ve never heard about it before, now is a good time as any, because this may just be the tool you need to significantly boost your work efficiency.
Before jumping into actionable advice about deep work, here’s what it entails and how it’s achieved.
Just what is Deep Work?
Popularised by Georgetown University’s Associate Professor of Computer Science, Cal Newport, deep work is a conceptual framework to increase productivity through intense focus.
The methods and strategies to achieve that kind of distraction-free focus are wide-ranging. Newport himself contributed many techniques, but deep work has grown past his initial framing and many have contributed their own approach.
It was developed as a counterpoint to the aimless and often distracted way in which many of us engage with work.
The basic principle is to be intentional in how you schedule your time and the attitude you have towards work.
It’s in contrast with what Newport calls “shallow work”, which is what he refers as repetitive tasks that are performed distractedly and add little value.
Always Start with a Plan
For a majority of us, deep work doesn’t come naturally. Therefore, the best approach is to create a cohesive plan of action and execute it sequentially. You’ll want to start by choosing your deep work scheduling strategy, i.e. how you’ll schedule your deep work time.
It can range from what Newport calls the Monastic Philosophy, which eschews most activity in favour of deep work, to the Journalistic Philosophy which fits deep work where your schedule allows. And of course, there’s everything in between.
It’s important to consider these carefully as you don’t want to overstrain yourself. If you try to take on a monastic approach, you’re likely to burn out if you’re not exceptionally disciplined and organised.
Following that, you can start building a routine.
This involves choosing a space where the deep work can take place (necessarily somewhere free of distractions). Once you go through a few periods of deep work, you can better understand what else you need, whether that’s music, a beverage etc.
Your goal is to spend the scheduled period completely engrossed in a particular task. If you’ve never worked like this before, it will be unnatural at first as you’ll have to willfully keep your mind from wandering.
As you warm up to this work mode, you’ll start to have a broader view of what it means to you and how you respond to it. At that point, you can begin to hone your deep work strategy and work on specific techniques to address your weak points.
Limit Use of Internet
A suggestion that Newport makes, and many echo, is to schedule internet use. You should use the internet only during scheduled periods, and to avoid it the rest of the time.
The goal is to increase work efficiency by eliminating what is, for most of us, the biggest distraction. This also has the benefit of improving our downtime, which we’ll cover later in this article.
You can go as far as to block distracting sites through your browser if you find this difficult – here are some app solutions previously mentioned in our article that you can consider using.
Work Meditation into Your Routine
Another strategy is to introduce a form of “productive meditation” into your work. This can involve any physical activity that doesn’t occupy the mind such as walking or even doodling.
While performing your task, focus your attention on the problem you’re trying to solve and let the activity prevent your mind from wandering.
Two or three periods of this productive meditation per week could help you become better at problem-solving. Furthermore, memory training has a beneficial effect on your ability to concentrate.
Doing memory exercises forces your mind into a deep state of concentration and it’s easy to maintain that focus because there’s a well-defined task.
Deep Work Environments
Deep work techniques are especially useful if you’re working from home.
There can be many potential distractions that can disrupt your productivity when you work at home. Deep work can help you organise your time better and set aside those distractions enough to maintain your output.
If the doesn’t fit in this case, you may want to vary your methods.
If you’re more inclined to be a monastic deep worker, the home environment may not be great for that, so you could adopt a more journalistic approach – splitting up your time into manageable periods of work. That way you could accomplish small tasks around the home and still get all your work done.
Prioritising the Downtime
Part of the deep work strategy is being deliberate about when work shouldn't be done.
There are many ways to prioritise your downtime, such as getting better at saying no to requests and making yourself inaccessible.
You can think of many more ways in which to compartmentalise work and downtime but remember the ultimate goal. By giving yourself adequate rest and relaxation you can make the most of the time you spend working.
Stop Doing Shallow Work
Deep work lets you better make use of your time, which will impact greatly on your life and others around you.
Once you get started, you’ll begin to notice a shift in the paradigm for what you can. By eliminating distractions and repetitive tasks, you can create real value much more efficiently.