What is Deep Work?
Distractions are all too common in the modern workplace, and productivity is at a low as a result. A recent CareerBuilder survey of 2,186 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals found that 19 percent of employers participating thought their employees were productive for less than five hours a day. The ability to concentrate and focus on a task and produce high quality output is a rare, yet extremely valuable skill to have. Something author of “Deep Work” Cal Newport recognizes the importance of.
Deep Work vs Shallow Work
Newport describes Deep Work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”, deep work “flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite.” The problem is that we work and live in an age that promotes “Shallow Work” – these are categorized as short mundane necessary tasks like answering emails, attending meetings and formatting spreadsheets. Both shallow and deep work have value in the workplace, both are necessary and both can co-exist very well, but how productive do you feel after a day of answering emails? Chances are not very, despite the fact that you feel like answering emails gives the impression to others that you are “working”. In fact, focusing too much on shallow working distracts from being able to do deep work. And it’s the deep work that gets you noticed, gets you the promotion and sets you apart from the competition.
Why Deep Work is Valuable
Most people find it hard to focus on the tasks that matter, and making your life easier by applying your attention to shallow tasks doesn’t make you productive or good at your job. But most people thrive working on these tasks. To seek out the discipline to make a deliberate practice of focusing on a complex task is a rare and valuable skill. Once you have mastered that level of focus you can pick up and learn new skills quickly. The ability to learn a new skill that’s in demand can truly change your career options and make you an invaluable asset.
How to Master Deep Work
Take a break from the connected world. Americans collectively check their smartphones 8 billion times per day. This includes responding to work emails and taking work calls outside of the office. Research has been done to prove that even the presence of a phone makes people less productive and that distractions make it harder to retain information and cause stress! Being connected is counterintuitive to productivity. It breeds distraction which makes deep work impossible to achieve.
Don’t multitask. In order to do something valuable very well you need to focus all of your attention on it. Monotasking is a practice and a skill most don’t have. The ability to focus on a bigger task beyond your email is something not everyone can do. Do something that can’t be outsourced. Make focus your niche. As Newport describes it “Focus is the new IQ” but unlike your IQ, you can get better at it over time.
Don’t distract from your skill. In order to exercise Deep Work, it’s important to eliminate the busy work around it. For example, if you’re a writer, Tweeting, attending conferences or networking can distract from the core of your work. Instead apply all of your concentration to the bigger task at hand. Write the article, finish the chapter, get it done: make it a priority.
Quick Tips to Help You Deep Work
Cal Newport has some quick recommendations on how to eliminate distractions and practice Deep Work:
- Consider quitting social media and turn your phone off
- Train your brain like you would train a muscle
- Embrace boredom and ignore the stimuli
- Set up Deep Work environment: set aside time in your calendar dedicated to focused tasks
Finding Meaning in Deep Work
Cal Newport believes that life is more meaningful when you allow yourself the time to focus and prioritize. According to his blog post “Resolve to Live a Deep Life“, to live a deep life is to embrace the following three general commitments:
- Systematically train your ability to concentrate intensely.
- Build your workweek around protecting and supporting many occasions to work deeply.
- Take bold measures to demonstrate respect for your attention.
Find out more about Deep Work in this podcast interview with Cal Newport:
Have you tried it? Let us know in the comments below.