So you decided to try out this deep work thing that everyone is talking about. You added a “Deep Work 🎧” event to your calendar from 10am to 12pm. Your caffeinated beverage of choice is at hand, your desk is clear, and there’s a snack in the drawer, just in case.
I have three tips for you, but let’s get on the same page on what deep work is first.
Deep work is focused, uninterrupted, single-tasked, specialized work.
Cal Newport coined the term in the book by the same name to identify certain high-value knowledge-work activities and how to best execute them. If you want to get serious in approaching your work, reading the whole of Deep Work is a great place to start.
Now, on with the tips.
Tip 1: Ease into it
Achieving and maintaining intense focus is hard. If you are new to deep work, it’s best to start gradually.
Aim for quality over quantity of focused time.
That 2 hours block you put in your calendar might be too ambitious. Consider reducing it to a more realistic 30 minutes. The more sessions you put under your belt, the longer intervals you’ll be able to reach.
Tip 2: Have a plan
Decide what to work on before starting your deep work session.
Having a plan reduces the cognitive effort to get started. The brain has a natural tendency to conserve energy and, given a choice, will gravitate to more accessible but less meaningful work. You can bypass that temptation by separating the decision phase from the execution one.
For example, you could start your day by processing all inboxes, identifying the most valuable things to work on, and blocking out deep work time for those in your schedule.
Tip 3: Rest afterward
When done right, deep work is cognitively draining. Your mind will need a rest after each session.
Taking some time off will help you flush the attention residue from the task you worked on, consolidate the learnings you made, and replenish your mental energy to focus appropriately later.
A good break should involve stepping away from your computer and getting your body moving to compensate for the time you have spent still. If your schedule is packed, at least take a walk down to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Bonus Tip: Quit Slack
It should come without saying, but you cannot work deeply if you have Slack or any other instant messaging client open in the background.
Deep work requires uninterrupted intense focus. Checking notifications during a session is in antithesis to the deep work definition. This is not only me being a stickler for semantics. Whether you like it or not, those boxes popping in the corner of your screen hijack your attention. That hampers your ability to direct as much focus as you can to the task at hand.
Working deeply is both a skill and a habit. As such, it needs to be established and trained.
If you’re starting out, don’t be surprised or discouraged if it’s hard: It’s supposed to be!
To make it easier on yourself, aim for quality over quantity in the length of your session, have a plan for what to work on, and make sure to recharge afterward.
Keep at it day after day. The real value of deep work is not in what you get done in a single session but in the compound results that emerge from stringing together session after session.