Working deeply is one of the most valuable skills in the contemporary world and “Deep Work” is a manifesto on this working style. Deep work is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare with technological advances, mobile computing, and our increasing reliance on social networks. Working deeply means developing the ability to focus on tasks that require great cognitive attention without being distracted. In “Deep Work”, Cal Newport will help you learn how to develop deep focus so you can produce at the highest level and highest performance. Work hard to achieve professional success.
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Multitasking Is Killing Your Productivity
Deep Work is the skill that will help you do a lot more in less time and learn complex new skills quickly. To survive in the contemporary world, it is essential.
Increasingly, we, information professionals, fragment our attention thanks to the constant access to virtual tools, such as social networks, emails and the internet itself. Succumbing to these distractions makes us unable to work deeply and makes us work superficially. Deep Work must be mastered because superficial work does not exploit our full potential and is easily repeatable and replaceable by other people.
If you are like most of us, you probably do many things at once and believe that this is the best use of your time. The bad news is that this logic is wrong because working on many things in parallel is not synonymous with productivity. It is necessary to abandon the multitasking mode in which we are used to operate. A University of Minnesota study, conducted in 2009, proved that by switching between task A and task B, people’s attention remains attached to the first task, which impairs concentration and causes both tasks to be complete with a worse performance.
Another study, by McKinsey Consulting, shows us that the modern professional is extremely distracted. They spend about 60% of their time using online communication tools and surfing the internet. Almost 30% of the professional time is dedicated to answering emails. This allows us to complete small tasks and feel busy, when in fact we are destroying our productivity by a lack of focus
Key Skills For Deep Work
To be able to work in depth, two skills are essential. The first is the ability to quickly master difficult and complex things. The second is the ability to produce in high performance, both in quality and speed.
To learn difficult things quickly, you need to focus intensely and without distractions. Learning is an act of ‘deep work, ‘ and if you feel comfortable going deeper into the job, you will be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to succeed in our economy. If instead, you feel uncomfortable with depth and constant distraction, you should not expect these skills to be easy for you. You need to understand the following equation:
Work produced with high quality = (time spent) x (focus intensity)
To produce at your maximum level, you need to work for long periods with maximum concentration in a single task, free of distractions.
Entering Deep Work Mode
There are different strategies for entering ‘deep work’ mode, and they all need your attention. There is no single strategy, but some general tips can help.
The first approach is monastic. It is based on removing all sources of distraction and isolating oneself from the world, as a monk would do.
The second approach is bimodal. It is based on setting a long period of focus and leaving the rest of your free time to other things.
The third is the rhythmic approach, which is based on creating the habit of working deeply in blocks of 90 minutes, for example, blocking out your agenda.
The last approach is journalistic which is based on allocating whatever free time arises in your day to enter the deep mode.
Regardless of which method you choose, it is important to know that you have to be methodical to get into deep work. You will not be able to steadily go deep into work if you do not create a process for it.
Deep Work Must Be A Priority
Many trends in the contemporary world diminish people’s ability to do deep jobs, such as open offices without private rooms, instant messaging platforms, and the need to stay present on social networks. Undoubtedly, these trends bring some benefits, such as quick responses to conversations, the possibility of remote work and better communication in companies, but, on the other hand, they hamper deep work.
In addition to the trends described above, other distractions occupy workplaces. One is the culture of connectivity, whereby we need to respond to emails and messages quickly and all the time. So why do so many people preach the culture of connectivity, even though it is likely to undermine employees’ well-being and productivity? The answer can be found in the Lesser Resistance Principle, which currently guides behavior in the workplace. According to him, in a business environment, without clear feedback of various behaviors impacts, we tend to act according to the behaviors that are easier at the moment.
Apparently, in today’s business world, many professionals are turning to the old definition of productivity to try to solidify their values in their professional lives. Information professionals tend to seek greater visible occupation because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value. This tendency can be called “Occupation as a sign of productivity.”
In the absence of clear indicators that indicate what it means to be productive at work, many professionals are looking for an industrial indicator of productivity: to do many things visibly. That ends up hurting the professional, as it ends up producing many small superficial activities and becomes easily replaceable.
Therefore, today, ‘deep work’ which should be a priority in the corporate environment, does not happen. The fact is deep work is difficult, while superficial work is simple and easy. That means that, in the absence of clear goals, the visible occupations surrounding a task are prioritized, making people focus only on the surface.
Deep Work Is Fulfilling If You Get In The ‘Flow’
Unlike artisans facing relatively well-defined but difficult-to-execute professional challenges, it is not easy to define precisely the tasks that need to be performed by experts in today’s world. Everything seems to end up in some emails and PowerPoint presentations. Besides, is it possible for the skilled professional to perform in his work, just as the artisan performs in his manual labor?
This connection between depth and purpose is not very clear in specialized work, but it does not mean that it does not exist. The objective here is to understand that deep work can generate as much satisfaction in the information economy era as it did in the artisanal economy.
To enter ‘deep work’ mode, you need to understand the concept of flow the author brings. Flow is a state of mind in which a person’s body or mind is ‘stretched’ to its limits in a voluntary effort to conquer something difficult and fulfilling. The more flow experiences happen in a week, the greater will be someone’s satisfaction and happiness. That is interesting because it runs counter to the popular wisdom that it is rest that makes people happy. Deep work is a state of continuous flow, and this flow brings happiness. With this, we have a powerful psychology argument for depth. Decades of research validate that of delving into something helps us to organize our minds and thus enriches our lives.
Deep work is the key to extracting purpose and meaning from your profession. Also, taking deep work in your own career and directing it to cultivate your skills is an effort that can transform your work and make it no longer a distracted obligation but a fulfilling and satisfying task.
Routines And Rituals To Enter ‘Deep Work’
The key to developing deep work is to add routines and rituals in your life to minimize how much willpower you need to maintain a state of uninterrupted concentration. For example, if in the middle of a distracting afternoon surfing the internet, you suddenly decide to shift your attention to a task with a cognitive requirement, you will need a strong will to move away from the web. Such attempts often fail. On the other hand, with clever routines and rituals – such as separating a quiet time and place for your deep tasks – you will need far less of your willpower to start and keep working. In the long run, you will succeed in these deep endeavors much more often.
To get the most out of your deep work, build rituals in your workday. Decide:
- Where are you going to work and for how long? If possible, choose a unique place to go deeper, such as an empty conference room or a quiet library.
- How will you work after you’ve started? Your ritual needs to have rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. For example, you can institute a ban on any use of the internet or keep a metric such as ‘written words every 20 minutes’ to maintain your concentration.
- How will you support your work? Your ritual needs to ensure that your brain receives the support it needs to operate at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual may specify that you start with a cup of coffee or make sure you have access to enough food to maintain your energy or even integrate light exercise like a walk to help clear your mind.
Also, plan your downtime. Idle time helps your brain rest and makes your deep work hours more productive. There are three other reasons for you to provide a little idleness to your work:
- Improved downtime. Providing time for your brain to rest allows your unconscious to work on the more complex professional challenges. So the habit of ‘turning off’ is not necessarily reducing the amount of time you spend on productive work. On the contrary, it is diversifying the kind of work you are capable of accomplishing.
- Idle time recharges the energy needed to work deeply. Your attention is a finite resource. If you do away with it, you will have trouble concentrating. The main idea of this theory is that if you take some time off from this activity, you will be able to restore your ability to direct your attention and your focus.
- Work replaced by idle time is not so important. Your ability to work deep in one day is limited. After reaching your maximum load during your workday, you should not be afraid to stop and rest. After all, you will not be able to continue working efficiently, and your efforts will be confined to low-value tasks performed at a slow speed.
Practice Productive Meditation
Once your brain has become accustomed to an ultra distracted world, it is difficult to adapt it to function deeply. If every moment of potential boredom in your life – for example, if you need to wait five minutes in queue or sit alone in a restaurant until your friends arrive – is relieved by a quick glance at your cell phone, your brain has reached a stage where you are not ready to work deeply – even if you practice concentration regularly.
Therefore, you should practice productive meditation. Its goal is to get you to be physically busy, but not mentally, such as walking, driving or showering – and focus your attention entirely on a well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem may be writing an article, trying to define a business strategy, or preparing a talk. Just as in full meditation, you need to continue to attract your attention to the problem. To be successful with productive meditation, it is important to recognize that, like any other form of meditation, you need to practice a lot to do well.
As a beginner, when you begin your productive meditation session, the first reflection of your mind will bring more interesting, disconnected thoughts. When you notice that your attention is getting away from the problem, remember that you can think about these things later and redirect your attention to the problem again.
Liberate Yourself From Social Networks
Identify the key factors which determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt tools like Facebook and Twitter if their positive impacts on these factors outweigh the negative ones.
You do not have to leave the internet completely, but you must reject the distracted state of being always connected. There is a middle ground, and if you are interested in developing a deep work habit, you need to fight to get there. Keep in mind the following points:
- Apply the Pareto rule to your internet habits. This rule states that, in many contexts, 80% of results are due to only 20% of efforts.
- Abandon social networks for 30 days. Do not formally disable these services and do not mention online that you will be leaving: just stop using them. After thirty days of network isolation, ask yourself the following questions: Would the last 30 days have been better if I had used these service? Did the people care that I was not using this service?
- Do not use the internet for fun. Giving your mind some significant task during all your working hours, you will end the day more satisfied and will start the next day more relaxed. If instead, you allow your mind to wander for hours on the internet, this productivity does not happen.
To summarize, if you want to eliminate the addiction of entertainment sites by draining your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative. Not only will this preserve your ability to withstand distractions and focus, but it will also help you experience what it means to live, not just exist.
Eliminate Superficial Work
Treat superficial work with suspicion, because its damage is often underestimated and its importance overestimated. This type of work is inevitable, but you must keep it confined to a point where it does not hinder your ability to make the most of your deep work efforts, the ones that make the most impact.
Start by programming every minute of your day:
A combination of organized programming and the flexibility to reschedule things if necessary will allow for more creative insights than a more traditional approach, with an unstructured and open day. Without a framework, it’s easy to let your time slip into superficiality – email, social networking and the internet. This kind of superficial behavior, while pleasurable at the moment, does not lead to creativity. On the other hand, with a structure, it is possible to define regular blocks of time to generate new ideas or to work deeply on some challenge or brainstorm for a fixed period of time. That is the kind of commitment that drives innovation.
Quantify depth of each activity:
One advantage of scheduling your day is that you can determine how much time you are spending on surface activities. Once you understand where your activities are on the scale of depth or superficiality, spend your time in the deep end.
What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow jobs? If you have a boss, have a talk with him about it. You will probably need to define for him what “shallow” and “deep” jobs are. If you are self-employed, ask yourself this question.
Finish your work at 5:30 p.m.
That is a fixed commitment to productivity, suggested by Cal. Having a set time to end the workday makes it necessary for you to be able to find productivity strategies that allow you to complete everything that needs to be done at the right time and the right speed.
- Make it difficult to send messages to your email: The idea that all messages, regardless of reason or sender, arrive in the same inbox, and that there is an expectation that each message needs a response, is extremely unproductive. Creating a sender filter is a small but very useful step to improve this situation. Sender and folder filtering for strangers is a good way to take control of your time.
- Devote yourself more to the emails you send and respond: Responding to emails with a quick response will, in a short time, give you a little relief because you will be getting rid of the responsibility brought by the message. However, this relief is short-term, as the responsibility will continue to come back to you in each new email you send, taking your time and attention. To handle it, the best way is to take a break before responding to each email and be precise in the content of your messages, to ensure that they do not keep coming back forever.
- Do not reply to all your emails. Develop the habit of letting little bad things happen. If you do not, you will never find time for big and important things. You should be content to realize that, as MIT teachers have discovered, people are quick to adjust their expectations to their specific communication habits. The fact that you do not respond to your messages is probably not a central event in your life. Do not respond to emails that do not relate to your interests or agenda, nor those that are ambiguous or difficult.
Deep life’s not for everyone. It requires hard work and drastic changes in your habits. For many, there is a comfort in the artificial occupation of responding to messages quickly or posting on social networks, but deep living requires you to leave a lot behind. There is also a difficulty that surrounds any effort to produce the best things that you are able to produce, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best (yet) is not so good.
But if you are willing to dodge these comforts and fears, and strive to use your mind in its fullest capacity to create important things, then you will find that depth creates a life rich in productivity and meaning.