n a world where we are always busy with reading and sending emails, attending meetings and Zooms, and chatting or Slacking with colleagues and clients, no area in particular seems to receive our full attention. It’s normal to look back on your workday and say, “I had a busy day,” but that doesn’t exactly translate to being productive. In fact, despite your busy day, your inbox might still be overflowing, and you may have overlooked key reminders, tasks, and approvals.
Being busy is the new norm, but it doesn’t actually mean you’re getting the things done that matter. Yes, your emails, your meetings, and your conversations with teammates are important. But what about the work that actually turns into outcomes? Enter the concept of “deep work,” a concept that Cal Newport coined in his world-renowned book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
The professor at Georgetown University defines deep work as a “professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
On the other hand, “shallow work,” the work that usually fills most of our days, is “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”
Newport describes how deep work is more important than ever in a time that demands so much of our attention. Between all the distractions we have in our days, the ability to focus intently for long periods is becoming almost impossible.
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Distractions Throughout The Day
Chances are, you can name multiple distractions that have redirected your attention today. You may even get distracted while you are reading this short article. That’s because we have so many things vying for our attention. Whether it’s the text message you just received, the alert in the corner of your computer screen, or your boss asking you a question, distractions are everywhere.
According to a Workplace Distraction Report from Udemy, nearly three-quarters of workers admit to feeling distracted at work, and over half say they “aren’t performing as well as they should.”
So what’s causing all these distractions? A survey from CareerBuilder found these top reasons for distractions:
- The internet
- Social media
Another major distraction is simply the process of switching between apps at work. Because we rely on many different software tools to get our work done, we need to switch between apps a lot during the workday. But do you know how often you’re actually doing that? The average employee switches between apps 30 times a day(!).
How do these distractions affect productivity? The same survey discovered that workplace distractions cost most employees over two hours of lost productivity a day. Just imagine how much more employees would get done in a year if all those distractions could be eliminated!
And while some of these distractions are of our own doing, many of these are an innate part of the workplace. In other words, to get true deep work done, you need to become better at managing things like email, app switching, notifications and alerts, breaks, and meetings. That way, you can unearth time to accomplish deep work.
Major Themes of Deep Work
In summary, Cal Newport’s book contains a number of recommendations to rid distractions and get into complete focus. It’s only in this “deep work” state that we can produce our best work. Here are some important takeaways from his book:
- Leave the devices alone. Social media, Google, and everything else on your phone are not helping you achieve your goals. They might seem like innocent tools that everyone else uses, so they can’t be that bad. But they’re pulling you out of the deep thought that enables you to produce better work.
- “Fixed schedule productivity.” You don’t need more time to achieve more. Newport, who has a lot on his plate, never works past 5:30. He says that by setting aside a certain amount of time to achieve tasks, you can stay focused and work towards your goal of finishing on time.
- Think while performing mindless tasks. Why waste that time listening to music or daydreaming when you could get a headstart on your next project. This could mean thinking about something different depending on the type of work you do.
- The 4DX system: 1. Focus on the most important tasks; 2. Spend more time on your important tasks and less on your lag measures; 3. Track your time spent on important tasks; 4. Measure and review your progress and keep yourself accountable.
- Avoid shallow work. As mentioned before, these are mindless tasks like responding to emails that feel good to get out of the way but don’t make you more productive. You’ll still have to fill some of your days with shallow work, but see how much you can eliminate or delegate to someone else. You might even be able to automate certain tasks by taking advantage of modern tools.
What is a Deep Work Workplace?
You might find it difficult to imagine a workplace environment without distractions—but they do exist. Companies are applying Newport’s deep work principles and loving the results.
To ensure his workers have three full workdays in a row for deep work, Tom Karwatka, CEO of software house Divante, has moved all shallow work to Mondays and Fridays. With all status reports and meetings moved to the beginning and end of the week, his employees can focus on the work that’s most important for 24 hours.
“I have been able to move on with many projects thanks to this approach,” says Karwatka. “I think that this is also helping my people to work better, without being disrupted by my emails all day.” From year to year, the company grew 30% after implementing these deep work principles.
Achieving Deep Work
Newport says that “once you’re wired for a distraction, you crave it.” But with the right habits in place—turning off distractions from notifications, establishing schedules, etc.—deep work can be achieved. You and your employees will be more productive and less time will be spent on shallow work.
Certain tools can also help establish deep work. Productivity tools, task management tools, and binaural beats can help your team focus.
And, a new class of software has emerged that focused specifically on enabling deep work. MetaSpark cuts distractions by automatically bringing everyone’s work into one screen—reducing tab hopping, context switching, and notification popups, which enables employees to better focus on their important work.
Deep work enables us to add value to the work we do. Otherwise, we can’t position ourselves to be key contributors. By applying deep work principles, you and your workers will achieve success through the power of attention—attention to detail, attention to what’s important, and attention to goals.
Are you ready to see how MetaSpark enables deep work by organizing all your work into one screen to remove distractions?