The world is full of distractions. Your phone is pinging with notifications, the new episode of your favorite TV show has just been released, and your partner is asking where you’ve put the hoover. How are you expected to get work done with all of this noise?
It’s human nature to become distracted by these things. Our brains are in constant search of dopamine, and you’re much more likely to get a hit of the happy hormone from picking up your phone than you are from getting your head stuck into your work. But, productivity is essential to achieving goals and maintaining your career. This is where deep work comes in, and it may be the answer to how you can work smarter, better, and for less time every day.
Our Decreasing Attention Span
The average human attention span has decreased rapidly over the past couple of decades. Half of the public perceives their attention span to be shorter than it used to be, and addiction to phones and digital devices is leading to an increased lack of focus. B2B sales engagement platform Outbase thinks that, “We have the digital revolution to thank for this. With so much information being fed to us at lightning speed through our devices, it’s become increasingly hard to hold our attention before getting distracted.” The pace of life is faster, with burnout on the rise and mental health becoming an increasing concern in the general population.
Though the myth about our attention span being less than that of a goldfish is unlikely, there’s no doubt that we do have a problem on our hands. So what can we do? Enter deep work.
What Is Deep Work?
Deep work aims to combat our ever-decreasing focus by ridding our environments of distractions. The goal is to achieve a state of deep concentration in which your quality of work and the speed at which you complete it both increase.
The idea was first published by Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Newport, a computer science professor, describes how deep work can help individuals unlock the full potential of their brain and work without distraction for long periods of time. Though not a new idea – with examples of other intellectuals already following the method – Newport was the first to write fully about the nature and idea of deep work and coined its name.
How Will Deep Work Help You Focus?
There are two main benefits to deep work that can transform the way you complete tasks:
- It helps you avoid distractions
- It rewires your brain
The first is relatively simple. Deep work outlines ways to rid yourself of distractions, like quitting social media and avoiding multitasking, which in turn improves productivity. The idea is to keep your brain entirely focused on one, single task, putting all of your thought and focus into your work.
Rewiring your brain is a little more complex, but is actually easier when you put the methods above into practice! Avoiding distractions is a task that’s directed by willpower.
Rewiring your brain happens on a subconscious level, with changes to your neurons and learning pathways occurring when you concentrate deeply. The end result is that when you focus intently on one task or skill, tuning out all else, you’re training your brain to perform better.
The Deep Work Philosophy
There are a few different philosophies behind deep work, and you can choose which suits you best.
This approach centers on routine. You outline the same chunks of time to work every day, such as between 9-12 am. Bear in mind that deep work should never be done for more than 4 hours a day as it’s simply unsustainable.
The journalistic philosophy is for those who prefer a flexible schedule. Fit in deep work wherever you can in your day, and for whatever length of time works in your ever-changing schedule.
If you’re frequently overwhelmed by a to-do list that means it’s a struggle to work on priority tasks, the monastic philosophy may suit you. The monastic approach works to cut out any side tasks, like emails, and focus completely on the important work, whatever it may be.
If you opt for this method, you’ll be organizing your schedule on a more long-term basis than the day-by-day the other philosophies follow. Many people work weekly using the bimodal philosophy, for example. The idea is to set aside a longer period of time – like one day a week, or a week every month – where you work entirely on deep work, concentrating on the vital tasks that are most important to you. On the other days, you can complete the shallow work, such as taking meetings or responding to calls.
Tips to Get into the Deep Work Mindset
Deep work doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and is often something you have to train yourself to do. As you start your journey, here are some tips to help you focus.
Mark your deep work time with specific rituals that you do every session. If you work at home, for example, you may do all deep work from your office with the door shut and take 10-minute coffee breaks every hour, on the hour.
Before you enter your uber-focused state of mind, make sure you have everything you need. Organize any papers and tools you require, and keep a glass of water on hand. If you like to deep work for hours at a time, having food ready could also be a smart idea.
Minimize Phone Distractions
If you can, keep your phone away from you whilst you dive into deep work. If you can’t remove or block certain apps that you know will distract you, like social media, and turn off non-vital notifications. A focus app that limits what you can do on your phone for certain periods of time is a great asset for deep workers.
Create Radical Change
If you’re working on a large task, create a radical change to your daily work structure to add importance to it, increasing your focus. For example, on days of deep work, you may visit a library rather than work from home. Many people also leave their homes when they’re embarking on extended periods of deep work, like Bill Gates, who heads to a cottage, alone, for two weeks without distraction to work on innovation.
Don’t Forget to Rest
Rest is vital in the deep work ideology. Set aside time every day to recharge your batteries and prevent burnout. Disconnect from work in downtime, creating clear boundaries of no email, work calls, or even thinking about work when you’re resting. Once you’re finished, you’re finished!
The SuN Takeaway
Concentration isn’t something that we’re taught to work on. But, in a world of digital distractions, it’s becoming more important than ever that we do. If you’d like to become more productive, hopefully this article will have given you the tips to start your journey with deep work, helping you transform the way you focus for higher-quality work and less stress.