Deep Work

Deep Work

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Time Spent x Intensity of Focus = High-Quality Work Produced

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Cal Newport’s Deep Work is a fascinating read about the benefits and practical steps you can take to do more deep work.

Unlike shallow work, that can give the false impression of productivity, deep work is much more conducive to increased productivity and getting the results you desire.

Deep Work Is Valuable

There are two groups of workers that are poised to thrive in our distracting digital economy: those who can work creatively with intelligent machines and those who are stars in their field.

These core abilities are crucial:

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Achieving these requires you to have or develop the ability to perform deep work, to focus intensely without distraction.

Deep Work Is Rare

Trends in business today actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work. You might wonder why many foster a culture of connectivity even though it’s likely to hurt employees’ well-being and productivity.

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

It's important to pull yourself away from work every now and then, but . . .

  • Breaks are one thing, they're focused and deliberate. But distractions are another. Distractions catch you off guard and derail your task entirely.
  • One study shows it takes about 25 minutes to get back into the swing of things after you've been interrupted. Can you afford them?
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For business

Knowledge workers are tending toward increasingly visible busyness because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

Deep Work Is Meaningful

Deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it so clearly does in a craft economy.

Deep work involves stretching your mind to its limits, concentrating, and losing yourself in an activity. It can result in a state of flow - and flow has been shown to relate to happiness.

The logic and proof for deep work

American culture is obsessed with the idea that we need to “find our passion” in order to be happy and successful. But there’s a problem: “It’s astonishingly bad piece of advice,” says best-selling author Cal Newport.

We have no pre-existing passion. Instead, passion is found by first building a rare and valuable talent and using it to take control of your career path. In other words, be so good and work so hard, that no one can ignore you.

Carl's talk in this video is thorough and inspiring. If you find yourself with a little time to sit. watch, and think deeply about what he's saying, you might find yourself choosing to add some more depth to your life.

Rule #1: Work Deeply

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life. These can minimise the amount of your limited willpower is needed to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

Rituals

To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals into your work day. Decide:

  • Where you’ll work and for how long. If it’s possible to identify a location used only for depth—for instance, a conference room or quiet library—the positive effect can be far greater.
  • How you’ll work once you start to work. Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. For example, you might institute a ban on any Internet use, or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty-minute interval to keep your concentration honed.
  • How you’ll support your work. Your ritual needs to ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee. Or making sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, or integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear.
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Add a little freedom

Inject regular and substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day, to give the idleness that paradoxically, is required to get (deep) work done.

  • Reason #1: Downtime Aids Insights. Providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges.
  • Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply. Attention is a finite resource. If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate.
  • Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important. Your capacity for deep work in a given day is limited. If you’re careful about your schedule, you should hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday.

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. Your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work.

Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.

Meditation

Practice productive meditation. The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally — walking, jogging, driving, showering — and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.

As a novice, when you begin a productive meditation session, your mind’s first act of rebellion will be to offer unrelated but seemingly more interesting thoughts. Gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later, then redirect your attention back.

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Multitasking is a misnomer

  • In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.
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    It's like riding a bike up a steep hill and having to stop every few minutes, it takes a while to get going again

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

Reject the state of distracted hyper-connectedness.

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If you’re a knowledge worker, then treat your tool selection with the same level of care as other skilled workers, such as farmers or builders.

Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

How

  • Apply the 80/20 rule to your internet habits. Try reducing the time spent on it, by 80% and know you'll still get 80% of the benefits.
  • Quit social media for 30 days. Don’t formally deactivate these services, and (this is important) don’t mention online that you’ll be signing off. Just stop using them, cold turkey. After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit.
    • Would the 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
    • Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?
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  • Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled. You'll begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing until you go to bed.
  • Cal Newport at TEDx talking on this topic.

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows

Treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.

Start by scheduling every minute of your day, and you will likely experience more creative insights than someone who adopts a more traditionally “spontaneous” approach where the day is unstructured.

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Allow but limit shallow work

Quantify the depth of every activity. An advantage of scheduling your day is that you can determine how much time you’re actually spending in shallow activities. Once you know where your activities fall on the deep-to-shallow scale, bias your time toward the former.

Finish your work by 5:30pm.

Email strategies and Notifications

We'll talk about these in the

tools section

My experience

Preparing for this workshop

I was taking notes for a month or so, as things came up. Adding reminders in Asana, tags in Asana and Workflowy. But the first time I sat down for a two hour stint I achieved:

  • An introduction - key points
  • Outline of the possible sections
  • First section (Habits) bullet points

I didn't complete it then, but the subtle stress of knowing I had to do some serious work on this, was behind me and the journey had begun. I knew there were several more 2-3 hour stints ahead of me, but I knew it would all flow now, I just needed to set aside the time and do the work.

7 Seconds online courses
  • Research and documenting a plan after 2 weeks of daily deep work
  • Result: A detailed plan for implementing an online education course

Conclusion

The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits. For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid e-mail messaging and social media posturing.

While the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind. There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing.This forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good.

If you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter. You’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning.

Still want more!

And if that's not enough, and you want some coaching, get in touch: