Use ‘Deep Work’ to Be More Productive

Use ‘Deep Work’ to Be More Productive

When you have a big project to do, you should be totally focused — but that’s easier said than done. Whether a lack of of personal interest is keeping you from committing or distractions are coming from someone or something else, it can be hard to get in the zone. That zone, according to one productivity theory, is called “deep work,” and you should be aiming for it — but doing so comes with a few steps.

What is “deep work”?

Deep work is a concept first defined by Cal Newport, who wrote, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. As he tells it, deep work is the ability to focus completely on a demanding task, without letting distraction get in your way. If you can master it, you’ll get more done in less time, become a master of your work, and ultimately end up feeling more fulfilled as a result. On his website, he explains that it’s rare to see someone feel energised and happy after sending emails, but there’s a sense of fulfillment that comes from sustained focus on more meaningful tasks.

How do you achieve deep work?

Newport draws a distinction between deep work and “shallow work,” or that which can be accomplished while you’re distracted. The difference between these is that deep work is for “cognitively demanding” tasks, whereas shallow work is the sort of work you do that prepares you to do deep work. Creating a project deck is deep work. Emailing colleagues to coordinate data for it is shallow work.

If you’re having a hard time determining what is and is not deep work, Newport has some guidelines. Shallow work tends “to not create new value in the world” and is “easy to replicate.”

The key, then, is first sorting your work into deep and shallow categories. Determine which of your tasks are cognitively demanding and valuable and which are “logistical-style” and replicable. Next, plan to devote an hour or an hour and a half to deep-work tasks, then schedule it out so you have that time blocked off in your schedule. Finally, when the time comes to get into deep work, eliminate all your distractions. Signal that you’re busy, make sure you’re unavailable in Slack and on the shared calendar, and put your phone on “do not disturb.” Don’t check emails, don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at your devices for anything but work, and commit to only working on your demanding task in the time you allotted for it.

The most important element is doing this mindfully and going into your deep work sessions aware that your goal is to accomplish something demanding with no distractions. Emails, notifications, chit-chat, and other worries and interruptions are commonplace and pull you away from the task at hand, so purposely cutting them off to get something done will be difficult, but it can turn into a habit, especially once it starts yielding the dual result of accomplishment and fulfillment.

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