The following was written by Donna Weber.
Do you spend your day in a blur of constant disruption? Emails, Slack messages, texts, and now the addition of dogs barking, stir crazy kids, and news alerts call for your attention at increasing speed and urgency. While during normal times it may be usual to have constant interruptions, since you are likely working from home now, you need to be not just productive, but also find a way to peace and solace in your day. I suggest you look to deep work for answers. Read on to learn five ways to access your new superpower, and see how I practice deep work in my daily life.
On an average day, you probably check your phone every eight to 12 minutes. In these ever-changing times, though, you are even more distracted with news updates, emergency alerts, and much needed contact with colleagues, friends, and family. On top of external distractions, you make things worse by interrupting yourself with weather forecasts, stock market updates, and constantly checking the email inbox. While of course you don’t want to cut yourself off completely, you need to know the costs of letting yourself be constantly interrupted. Distractions are your kryptonite because:
Rather than spinning in a world of distractions, give yourself the gift of deep work. According to Cal Newport, the renowned author and computer science professor who coined the term, “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.” The benefits of deep work include:
Newport declares, “Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship.” Deep work is extremely gratifying and energizing. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself happier when you make deep work sessions a regular part of your life.
With deep work, your brain stays in one place for 15, 30, even 90 minutes, allowing you to accomplish important work. Follow these guidelines to start your deep work sessions.
Deep work is challenging, just like a building a new muscle. I recommend you start with small segments and gradually increase the time of your deep work blocks. You might start with a 15 session and then add ten minutes each week to build your concentration muscle. All that dedication can be tiring, so give yourself a break to move around and focus on shallow tasks when your deep work session is complete. If you want to learn more about deep work, I highly recommend Newport’s book, Deep Work, and this interview for a short overview.
About a year ago, I challenged myself to work deeply after reading the book, Deep Work. I schedule time on my calendar to write most mornings. Initially, I committed to 15 minute sessions and now work deeply for about 45 minutes before I find myself wearing out. Even though it’s part of my schedule, I still feel a conflict of priorities screaming at me as I approach my deep work session. Answering all those unread emails and texts seems so much more urgent and important than sitting down to work deeply. Instead of heading the call, I step bravely into my deep work zone and begin the task at hand.
I start by setting a timer and playing specific focusing music. I include links to the tools I use in the next section. Starting this routine signals my brain that it’s time to concentrate. Even though it can feel physically and mentally painful to focus on one thing and not multitask, I usually find about ten minutes in, my brain quiets down. I find myself breathing deeply and I am energized by the task at hand. I’m in a flow state. Before I know it, my timer goes off, and I wonder where all the time went. Rather than leaping up, I often keep going for another five to 10 minutes. Other times, I hit a wall before the timer goes off. Having a timer helps me to stay focused during the handful of minutes remaining. If I’m late for my deep work session, I try to give myself even 10 to 15 minutes to focus on one task.
I like working deeply. In fact, I crave deep work on days when my schedule is overly booked. The following tools help me focus during my deep work sessions. Learn more in my article, Just Focus: Four Tools to Get in Your Zone.
The superpower of deep work is inside you right now. You don’t need a special potion or a magic ring to access it. What you do need is a commitment to block out distraction free time most days. Newport insists that deep work is one of the most valuable skills in our economy. His research finds that when you master deep work, you will achieve extraordinary work. Rather than starting and ending your days bouncing from one seemingly urgent task to another, explore deep work. You will be happier and more productive. I challenge you to schedule a 15-minute deep work session today, tomorrow, and the next day. Your brain will thank you. Let me know how it goes.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
Why the Modern World Is Bad for Your Brain
What Constant Distraction Does to Your Brain
The Cost of Interruptions: They Waste More Time Than You Think
Four Reason Deep Work Gives You A Major Competitive Advantage
Finding Your Focus Through Deep Work
This Is Your Brain on Technology: The Distraction Epidemic