Deep work as defined by author and professor Cal Newport in his best selling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is a concept born out of the difficulty many people have today in handling distractions caused by the boom in digital communications.
These distractions prevent us from focusing on work that matters and contributes towards us feeling overwhelmed and over-worked every day yet at the same time, leaving us feeling we are not doing work that really matters. We are reacting rather than being proactive.
Deep work prevents us from reacting by scheduling time for focused work where we turn off all our notifications and devices for an hour or two and sit down in a quiet place undisturbed to focus on work that matters. It allows us to focus without distraction.
It does work and it is something I have been using for years when I need to get a book finished or I have an important project to complete. Two hours set aside for planned focused work puts me in a position to get my projects completed on time and to a high level of quality.
How Deep Work Helps You Refocus
There are many benefits to deep work. Here are my 17 favourite ways deep work can help you to become much more productive and effective with your time and your work.
1. Unimportant distractions are gone
How often have you received a text message saying “did you get my email?” Checking emails is one of the biggest time wastes there is. Just looking at a message like that takes your focus away from what is important.
The refocusing time is estimated to be anywhere between three and twenty-one minutes. Turning off your notifications stops these unnecessary interruptions and allows you to focus on what is important—your work.
2. Quiet, deep work time allows you to think
When we allow all these distractions to enter our life, we find there is little to no time for thinking. And yet, thinking is an important ingredient if we want to produce quality work.
Giving yourself time each day for deep work will allow you to think clearly and begin producing better quality work
3. Begin to feel more fulfilled
When you start spending more uninterrupted time on the important work, you will find you feel more fulfilled. This is a result of you getting important, fulfilling work done and reducing the amount of time you spend on unimportant, unfulfilling work.
4. Make fewer mistakes
When you are constantly distracted from the work at hand, you will make more mistakes. When you allow yourself to stay focused on one task you will make fewer mistakes because you are not having to stop and start a piece of work. You will be more focused.
5. Need less time to do the work
And of course, when you are making fewer mistakes you spend less time doing the work and revising. This allows you more time to do more quality work.
6. Deadlines are easily met
When you schedule deep work on your calendar each day or week, you can confidently plan out when you will do the work that has deadlines.
Knowing you will have periods of uninterrupted time to work on a piece of work will give you the confidence you need to meet the deadline.
7. Experience less stress
When you know you have the time to do the work without any interruptions, you begin feeling less stressed about what you have to do.
A great example is writing this article. I have a deadline and I have scheduled two sessions of deep work to get it written and edited. I feel no stress. I know I will complete it on time.
8. The quality of your work will improve
The problem with allowing distractions into your work time is that you are not fully focused on the work. By giving yourself total focused time on a piece of work, you will naturally improve the quality of your work.
9. The amount of work you get done increases
When you are completely focused on the important work, you will find you get a lot more done in each session. Just two hours per day focused on work that really matters will dramatically improve your output.
10. Have time to deal with the distractions.
One of the fears people have about scheduling deep work is they will miss out on something important. The reality is that is unlikely and even if there was something important, you will still see it after your deep work session.
11. Receive more respect
When your boss, colleagues and customers/clients see you schedule time for deep work, they begin to respect you more because they admire your discipline.
Very few people have the necessary discipline to sit down and focus for two hours without looking at their phone, email or notifications. Those of us that can do that are treated with a lot more respect.
12. People will respect your time more
Ever noticed the people in your office who do all the chatting are the ones always complaining about how little time they have to do their work? While it may seem those chatterers are popular, the reality is people are not respecting their time.
When you start doing undisturbed deep work, people will begin respecting your time much more.
13. Your self-discipline will improve
One of the peripheral benefits of practicing regular sessions of deep work is you will find your self-discipline becomes stronger. Self-discipline is the foundation of achieving so many things in life, from your goals to improvements in your health and relationships.
14. Your efficiency will improve
In today’s world of detractions, it is very hard to be efficient with the work we do. We get dragged down avenues of procrastination because we are always trying to attend to too many things.
Practicing deep work every day allows us to focus on one thing which leads to much greater efficiency.
15. Projects you thought would never get completed begin to get completed
This one is one of the biggest benefits I have found with deep work. There have been many projects I felt were either too big or too complicated to get completed. After a few sessions of deep work, these projects start getting done and after only a short period of time, they were well on their way to being completed.
16. Your work-life balance improves
Many of the reasons we find it difficult to maintain a good work-life balance is because much of the work we have to do is done in fits and starts. When this happens, there is often the need to do catch-up work in the evenings or at weekends.
Deep work prevents this from happening because you work on the important work in a focused state leading to more of your work being completed well within the deadlines.
17. Know how to distinguish between important and unimportant work
Deep work forces you to decide what work is important and what work would have the biggest positive impact on your projects. When you begin practicing deep work regularly, you start to focus more on the high value work and less on the low value work.
6 Steps to Use Deep Work to Ignite Productivity
1. Use time blocks on your calendar
The first step to taking advantage of deep work is to block time out on your calendar. To do this, review your calendar for the next day and identify where you will have one or two hours free for focused work.
Ideally, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon is what you are looking for but, be flexible. If you have a relatively free morning and back to back meetings in the afternoon, then block time only in the morning.
2. Start small
If you have never blocked time out for focused work before, then start small.
Begin with thirty minutes and gradually increase your time. It should not be difficult to find 30 minutes a day to sit down in a quiet place and get on with your work.
Once you are comfortable with 30 minutes, increase the time to 1 hour. It is surprising how much you can get done in 1 hour and so, make it a goal to get to a daily deep work session of 1 hour as quickly as you can. Just this 1 hour every day will massively increase your productivity.
3. Decide what you will work on the day before
This step is crucial. If you do not plan what you will work on before you sit down to do deep work, you will waste valuable time looking for something to do. Plan ahead.
I recommend you take 10 minutes before you finish for the day and make a decision on what you will work on during your focused work time.
An additional benefit in doing this is you give your subconscious brain time to develop some creative ideas for the project you are going to work on.
4. Find a quiet place to do your work
If you stay in your normal work station and try and do your focused work, you are going to be interrupted by someone or something.
Try to find a quiet place to do your work. In an office, find a meeting room where you can work undisturbed. Alternatively, if you are permitted to do so, do your deep work sessions in a local coffee shop or at home.
What you are looking for is a regular place you can do your deep work that will allow you to go into focused work mode quickly. Using the same place will put you in the right frame of mind as soon as you sit down and start.
5. Find your best time
Some people are naturally morning people, others are naturally night people. To really get the benefit of deep work, schedule your deep work sessions when you are at your best.
For me, that is early in the morning. I do all my focussed work between 6 am and 8 am where possible. I’ve found that between 6 am and 8 am, I am also less likely to be disturbed and they are not likely to be any meetings at that time.
6. Be consistent
To get the full benefit of deep work sessions, you need to be consistent.
Consistency develops habits. Once you are in the habit of reviewing your calendar the day before and blocking out a couple of sessions each day where you go into deep work mode and doing it, it becomes something you just do.
Consistently spending time in deep work mode will very quickly give you a return of increased productivity and less stress.
6. No excuses!
Never allow yourself to make an excuse for not doing your scheduled deep work session.
Of course, there will be times when a crisis occurs and you have to re-schedule. But, never allow yourself to make excuses like: “I’m too tired” or “I’m not in the mood.”
Once you allow yourself to make an excuse for not doing your deep work session, you will eventually stop doing it.
Be strict with yourself and be strategic with scheduling your deep work sessions. If you know you are going to have a night out with your friends that could finish late, then do not schedule a deep work session for early the next day. If there is a risk an afternoon meeting will overrun, then do not schedule a deep work session after the meeting.
The Bottom Line
The ability to focus is a valuable skill if you want to achieve your goals and become successful. Practising deep work will make you free from distraction and benefit your work, your career and your life. All you need to do is decide when you will do your deep work.
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