How to get Deep Work done

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests that because of the distractions technology imposes on us, we spend the majority of our time doing Shallow work – work that is non-cognitively demanding. And because of the constant distractions, we have forgotten how to truly engage in Deep work – that is, focused thinking where we make meaningful progress on our most challenging but impactful projects. We need to get ‘focus fit’.

Aim

Create Deep work norms and build focus fitness within your team to get more high-value work done.

Resources

  • We highly recommend giving all team members a copy of Cal Newport’s Deep Work book (optional)
  • A timer

Method

When we kick off a new exercise regime, we don’t start by bench pressing 50kg in our first session. So when it comes to (re)building your focus muscle, think about building up slowly.

  1. Start by booking 30min time blocks in your calendar. During this time, select a task that requires you to focus and achieve something meaningful. Turn off all notifications on your computer, put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and remove any other distractions. It’s important that you mono-task (i.e. focus on one thing at the one time) as opposed to multi-task (e.g. switch between your task and your inbox).
  2. Complete your planned task, then give yourself a little reward – like a walk in the sun or a coffee break.
  3. Repeat this cycle, working up to 60-90 minute distraction-free focus periods. That means no ‘just checking’ your email or social media during this time.
  4. Turn this into a ritual by working out when you should schedule your deep work time using your chronotype (How to create a team chronotype map). Aim to work up to two ‘deep work sprints’ per day. Then, block this time out in your calendar and ask your colleagues not to contact you or expect responses during this time.
  5. Once this has become the norm, think about your main categories of work and create rituals around them. The rituals might involve your physical location or the time of day you complete a specific task. For example, you may prefer doing writing work while sitting outside on a sunny porch and doing analytical work in the quiet of your bedroom.
  6. Practice these rituals for at least a couple of weeks. It takes time to get into a flow, but when you do, it will become easier and happen more quickly the more your practice. Your brain will begin to associate cues — like your physical environment and the time of day — with certain types of work. Finally, changing your behaviour to increase productivity can take willpower. But your willpower muscle is limited. So, where possible, remove temptations rather than try to resist them.
  7. To effortlessly stay focused at work, check out Freedom. Freedom allows you to block yourself from accessing certain websites and applications, or if you are game, the entire internet. You simply decide when you want to get deep, focused work done, and Freedom blocks you out of all potential distractions.

Outcome

Completing a Deep work sprint is where you make the biggest progress at work (especially if you are a knowledge worker). Successfully completing Deep work sprints is the difference between ‘just another day at the office’ and a great day at work where you make meaningful progress. It is the difference between an ordinary team that does enough to get by and an ‘A team’ that drives the business forward. At Inventium, Deep work has become a regular part of everyday life and blocked out times are prioritised and respected.