What is Deep Work?

There’s two types of work according to Cal Newport in Deep Work. There’s deep and then there’s shallow work. Shallow work arises from the internet. Social networks have eaten up our attention span and deleted our ability to fix our mind on anything for long periods of time. Think of shallow work as the tasks that anyone can do, right away with almost no training. It’s simple work ladled with interruption. Using Twitter and replying to emails while you write.

Deep work is the opposite. It’s long periods of uninterrupted concentration. To succeed in the attention economy, you need to work deeply. I’d even argue deep work is the world’s most valued skill. Deep work requires patience, it requires you step out onto the edge of your job and step further.

The good news for you and I is Cal has written an entire book about it. We can learn deep work. It’s hard to learn. That is exactly what makes it valuable.

Why Should I Care About Deep Work?

You should worry that you can produce. You want to be producing work that is out of your comfort zone. Impossible if you start your day intending to get that post out but you wake up at 3pm and realise you gave your day to the feed. You can’t afford to ping pong between tasks.

You must learn the art of deep work. If you can master deep work, you’ll learn faster with better results. The work you produce will be better than you’ve ever produced before. It’ll be crafted not thrown together.

Deep work is your super power in our attention economy. The world’s smartest people are ensuring the internet interrupts you as much as possible. I know the benefits of the internet too. I grew up with the internet and I’d die without it.

But the more deep work I do, the more I realise how valuable it is. I get more done in far less time and with better results.

Forget Time Management.

We need attention management. I’ve read hundreds of blog posts on time management. Whether it’s the Pomodoro technique, to-do lists or the next life hack is irrelevant.

What is, is attention management. Your attention equals power. Learn to focus it. Don’t spend day after day, after day switching between tasks every 15 minutes. I’m sorry to say multitasking doesn’t give you the edge. Multitasking eats away at your potential.

I know. “I multitask and I’m productive”. Nope. At least not as productive as you can be. Multitasking does not help. It hurts.

When you give your attention away from task 1 to task 2, you give a part of your cognition. You’re not 100% focused on task 2. There’s still residue from task 1. A part of your brain is still thinking about it.

There was a study from the University of Minnesota in 2009 that highlights this. The study had group 1 work on word puzzles until researchers interrupted them with reading resumes and making hiring decisions. In group 2, they finished their puzzles before moving onto resumes.

What happened? Residue handicapped group 1’s minds. They weren’t able to achieve the same level of quality in their decisions. Time to accept that multitasking is a drain on your ability to perform great work. Think about that next time work bores you and you run for Facebook’s feed.

If You’re Like Most People, It’s Even Worse.

It’s not task 1 and 2, it’s task 1, 2, 3, and 4. Stop sedating yourself. Perform deep work and perform at your peak. When you work, work don’t open tab after tab of social network.

Don’t even have them open. Even seeing a notification is killing your ability, leaving residue. We all think we produce moving information around the office. Tweeting about news, emailing colleague after colleague but are we adding value to the world? Are we productive?

It’s time to reduce the role that distractions play in our lives. We are professional athletes. We use our mind instead of our body. As Cal says “the way a professional athlete takes their diet very seriously, I take sources of distraction very seriously”.

Accelerate. Block your deep work time. Give yourself room to work deeply. Become great. Learn the art of deep work. Deep work gives you the edge. It’s the holy grail. It’s high volume and high-value output. The field you’re in is irrelevant. It will produce tangible results in your life.

So, You’re Convinced but How Do You Start?

In Deep Work, Cal outlines 4 types of deep work. Namely monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic. Each fits a different situation. It depends on your schedule. Deep work is part art and part science. Take what works for you and throw away the rest.

  • Monastic: remove yourself from the world like a monk.
  • Bimodal: set yourself a clearly defined, long stretch of work and leave the rest of your time for shallow work.
  • Rhythmic: 90+ minutes of uninterrupted work — blocks of deep work followed by a break.
  • Journalistic: take any pockets of downtime in your daily routine for deep work.

The method you choose isn’t as important as setting out the time to do it. Deep work isn’t waiting for inspiration; it’s about creating it. Even from reading this you can see that each approach caters for a different audience.

  • Monastic is very hard to achieve but the most valuable. If you can go away for weeks at a time and work. That is amazing but most of us can’t.
  • Bimodal is achievable but only if you work for yourself or have an understanding boss that allows you to skip meetings.
  • Rhythmic where most of us will end up, you schedule time at the start of the week and try to stick to it.
  • Journalistic is for the stay at home mum or dad who also runs a small business. You work frantically in nap times and when kids are on playdates.

You cannot underestimate the power of being engaged. Don’t give it away to Facebook and Snapchat. Try it. I promise you. It works and it’s game-changing.

What Differentiates Flow from Deep Work?

The difference is deep work is deliberate. You don’t wait to get into flow. You create it. Think back to that day when you won at work. You produced more, faster than you ever thought possible. That’s flow but it isn’t deep work.

Producing more than you ever thought possible constantly? That’s deep work. Deep work is deliberate. It’s hard. It’s extremely valuable. It’s the forgotten skill in this attention economy.

Don’t let your brain grow used to the small hits of dopamine that come from retweets. It’ll learn to crave distraction, that’s how evolution designed our brains and for good reason. We needed to be distractible. But we aren’t running from tigers anymore. We are sitting in an office, safe. We can focus on the task at hand.

Deep Work Takes Practice. So Practice.

You wouldn’t prepare to run a marathon by vegetating on a couch for 6 months. No, you’d run. First short distances and then longer and longer as you built up stamina. Deep work is no different. You shouldn’t expect deep work if you still sit on Facebook for 6 hours a day.

Give yourself time to adapt and learn how to work deeply.

Build a schedule. You don’t follow it to the tee but try to. Scheduling is your friend. When you get home from work what do you want to do?

Do you want to sit down and watch the TV all night? TV equals ads. Ads take up valuable space. Or do you want to create something that you’ll be proud to show your kids?

I know what I want and I’m sure I know what you want too. Build the habits that benefit you. We all have the same amount of time in the day. It’s about how we use it. Your schedule is your itinerary for life.

If it’s important, schedule and measure it. You’re not busy, you’re not using your attention. Plan your downtime as you plan your work and try not to let the two mix.

When you work, you work and when you relax you relax.

Distractions Aren’t Your Friend

Distractions are everywhere. Multitasking, now the default state of mind for billions. But it need not.

You can control your time and develop the skill of deep work. Every time you give into boredom you give up what makes you great. Every tweet, text and snap you reply to in a session of deep work make the session harder. Don’t quit. Life is more than dopamine hits; create something you’ll be proud.

Deep work makes you more valuable. So rare and so desired in today. Few things are becoming harder to find. Deep work is. The more time you spend working deeply, the less you’ll want to tread in the shallows.

Find Ikigai

What you are looking for is intensity, flow brings out the best in you. The Japanese have a word for it — Ikigai — your reason for being.

Find your ikigai. It won’t be easy and it won’t be on Facebook. You’ll find it through long stretches of time deep in thought. Those are the hours that shape you.

Learn to delay gratification. That’s your superpower.

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Spaceship Product & Engineering Blog


Abi Tyas Tunggal

Written by

Growth at UpGuard, writer, maker Past: Spaceship’s first employee.



Spaceship Product & Engineering Blog

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