Why DEEP WORK is the Number One Skill to Master in 2021
Deep work is rare in the knowledge economy. But also the factor to produce extraordinary results. Practice these 4 ways to strengthen your deep work muscles.
Do you often feel so busy but accomplish so little?
Working on your laptop struggling to focus on a simple task, while your smartphones appealing you to browse mouth-watering apps.
And you feel lethargic and drained even in the middle of the day.
This is the dilemma of every knowledge worker exposed to technology gadgets. Distractions and attractions of the online world are taking control of our lives. We are literally addicted to this digital world. Whereas all meaningful work is a result of deep work habits.
Cal Newport introduced the term “Deep Work” in his fascinating book. Though the book released in 2016, its message is more pertinent in recent times, when we are going through a massive digital transformation in every industry.
To perform Deep work is an excruciating challenge for any knowledge worker. As the knowledge economy demands intellectual products and without deep work, chances are quite low to thrive and produce meaningful work. Therefore improving deep work habits would be a game-changer to your life.
Deep work is becoming rare as people are glued to social media networks throughout the day. This culture of hyper-connectivity and notifications through digital apps/email/chats reduces our ability to perform deep work. Diminishes focus from our life, and makes us prone to more shallow work.
Deep work is an activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration (mostly in isolation), focusing intensively on a single task you are doing for limited time slots (maximum 2–3 hours). This concentration pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limits. All scientific discoveries, creative pursuits, timeless artwork, or innovative work are a result of working in deep work phases regularly.
Whereas, shallow work is non-cognitive demanding tasks (where you don’t need to focus, often performed while distracted). These efforts don’t create any value and are easy to replicate.
For example, continuous email checking after every 30 minutes, browsing social media sites, binge-watching Netflix or Youtube videos aimlessly. Or useless discussions and administrative tasks at the office, phone calls, surfing infotainment websites. These shallow activities severely damage your concentration, deep work capacity and decrease productive results.
During most of our daytime, we keep distracted because of these shallow activities, and could not perform a single laser-focused meaningful task. As a result of these distractions, we keep procrastinating, could not produce meaningful work having significant value.
How can we develop a Deep Work lifestyle?
Cal has suggested four approaches to strengthen your deep work muscles that can literally transform your ability to execute difficult tasks in a small time.
1. Add routines and rituals in your life.
So that you don’t need to rely heavily on your limited willpower to remain focused for a longer time.
For example in a distracted afternoon, after consuming a lot of time in web browsing you suddenly transition into a cognitive task by using your willpower. It’ll be very difficult to keep your attention away from online browsing using your limited willpower resources. Instead, when you will add smart routines you need less willpower to start and keep going.
For smart rituals, decide where and how long you’ll work before the task. Apply rules to keep your efforts structured like an internet ban, or maintain a metric such as words produce per twenty minutes, or any specific outcome you will achieve in this deep session.
Apply internet blocks (for 1.5 - 2 hours), on your mobile or laptop during this period.
Take smart breaks after every deep work session to support this deep work outcome and make your mind clear. Take a break for 10–15 minutes, and don’t indulge in any online activity. It could be stretching, a simple walk, drinking water. Anything that can divert your mind from the task you were doing.
These breaks are important as attention is a finite resource and you will struggle to focus. On average you can perform deep work activity for not more than 4 hours a day, so use these deep sessions and breaks very carefully.
These breaks also allow your subconscious minds to kick in, and process while you are not focusing on the task.
2. Embrace boredom
Once your brain becomes accustomed to distraction all the time, it’s really hard to concentrate even when you plan to do it.
For e.g. in every moment of potential boredom in your life like waiting in a line for five minutes, you quickly browse your smartphone, as a result, your brain is likely to be rewired to a point where deep work is tough to apply.
Therefore, the author proposes, instead of taking occasional breaks from distractions to focus on a task, you rather schedule a break from a deeply focused task to give in to distractions. And during those deep work sessions resist the temptation for distracting stimuli. That means after having one or two deep work sessions in a day, then allocate some time for boredom or shallow work.
An approach to building deep work muscles is practicing productive meditation. Take a break where you might be doing a physical task like walking, jogging, taking shower, but not a mental task. Then focus your attention on a single professional task depending on your profession. This might be outlining an article, making a report, designing a business strategy, or making progress on an ongoing task. Your attention will divert but resist those thoughts and keep meditating. These sessions will help you to build concentration for longer times.
3. Minimize Social Media.
It doesn’t mean to absolutely quit social media, but this state of hyper-connectedness while engaging with social media throughout your day is harmful to deep work and attaining focus.
You should be very careful about which tools and applications to select. Only adopt those social media tools which are crucial for the deep work, and that can bring success in your personal and professional life.
Apply the law of vital few to internet habits. That means 80% of a given effect is because of 20% of the causes. The author proposed to quit social media totally for 30 days, and after 30 days reflect if your life had been better. Did this absence have any negative impact on your work or not. It’ll also help you in consciously deciding tools to select for the future.
Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. If you will allow your mind to consume the internet for hours for pleasure in a semiconscious and unstructured web surfing, at the end of the day you will not feel fulfilled.
Instead, add meaningful activities in your leisure time including, reading books, physical activity, or any other pursuit outside the online world. This will help you to prevent the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and focus, and provide an alternative to your brain. It will also help you to resist distraction and strengthen your deep work muscles.
4. Reduce the shallow work.
Treat shallow activities with suspicion. Schedule every minute of your day. Structure this with a specific task to perform. As without structure, it’s easy to indulge in shallow activities-email, social media, websurfing.
Structure your deep work and shallow work schedules in a single day and implement them ruthlessly. It is better to structure shallow activities at the peripheries of the day, 30 minutes before lunch or 30 minutes at the end of the working hours when you have already performed a deep work task. Though these shallow behaviors may feel satisfying at the moment but are not healthy for creativity.
Quantify the depth of every task. Scheduling your tasks helps you to keep track of where you are spending your day time. What percentage of your tasks in a day should be spent on shallow activities?
Finish your work by 5:30 pm. When you focus to execute this fixed-schedule productivity, and then working backward to find strategies about how to finish the day by 5:30, chances are high when you structure backward you will find ways to execute this plan.
Make people who send you emails do more work. It is not wise to treat all messages in your inbox as deserving a timely response. A sender filter is a useful step, to control your time.
Do more work when you send or reply to emails/social media communication. Replying to emails with a quick response may be a relief for the short term, as the sender will again bounce back responsibility on your shoulder to reply back. It is better to reflect and take some time to answer, what will be the most efficient message that can bring this project to a conclusion.
Developing deep work is a skill that quickly allows mastering complicated information and produces better results in less time. Even if you can manage 1–2 deep work sessions in a day, it can transform your life, and you can achieve tasks in a day you use to do in weeks.
Deep work is not for everybody. Because most people are obsessed with online tools and it is really hard to revert back. That’s why deep work is lacking in the knowledge economy and is becoming rare, but it is also the only factor to produce extraordinary results.