Setting aside time to focus on projects that require intense concentration can be tough if your day is filled with meetings, emails, and shoulder tapping from colleagues. Scheduling blocks of time to dedicate to this “deep work” can help you make more progress.
Image from Josh MacDonald.
“Deep work”, as defined by Cal Newport, is when you have a task that needs deep concentration in order to progress. For example, developing pitches, coming up with new ideas, or anything that moves your project, team, or company forward. In contrast, “shallow work” includes administrative things like paperwork, emails, and meetings.
Finding time among the shallow work to focus energy and thought on deep work is about more than scheduling deep work time on your calendar. You should track it too, to see if you’re really using the time you’ve set aside. Cal Newport explains:
One of the ideas that I found really useful was having a scoreboard. I keep a tally so I can see every day how many hours of deep work I’ve actually performed. It seems like a simple thing, but without it, it’s so easy to go through a week and just say, “Well, I was busy and I think I did some deep work in there.” Once you start keeping score, you look at it and say, “I did one hour out of a 40-hour week? I’m embarrassed.” A compelling scoreboard drives you to action.
Tracking your actual hours of deep work for the work week shows you if you’re dedicating enough time or not. If you find you’re not, take a look at what shallow work or distractions are stopping you from using that dedicated deep work time. It can be tough to cut down on meetings or tell people “no”, but ultimately, that deep work will pay off in the long run.
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