Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, defines it as, “Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”
I want you to first think back to yesterday; did you accomplish this for any amount of time?
It’s not that we need to be completely devoid of distraction, but rather control how we let distraction enter our lives. If your day (yesterday) was full of “busy work”, you may not have any time for “deep work.” Conversely, if you blocked time on your calendar to get a priority task completed, but let your phone ping from social media or email, you may have failed to complete deep work.
We might take this even a step further — even in a distraction free environment, how often (when you achieve that) do you push your cognitive capabilities to their limit?
This is “job agnostic”, meaning you don’t need to be the CEO of a Fortune 50 company to do deep work; any professional can increase their value, increase their knowledge and its application, and find growth.
Cal describes finding fulfillment from craftsmanship, which translates to “finding meaning in honing your skills on something beyond a surface level.” This is something we might throw on our schedule to block time for, like starting a new project, helping to realize our side hustle into existence, or learning a new skill, but rarely do we make progress on these projects.
Why? Because we let external sources (“life”) dictate our time (i.e. schedule), attention (i.e. focus), and discipline (i.e. we naturally are incentivized by short term rewards over sacrifice for long term success), instead of deciding for ourselves. We can choose to take pride in our work, regardless of what you do.
If you could shut off all “notifications” in your life, what could you get done?
Strategies for Creating Deep Work Opportunities
Here are a few quick strategies for creating deep work opportunities:
1) Put your phone in airplane mode AND do not disturb.
Set a timer (for longer than you think a task might take) and don’t deviate from the time allotted.
2) Block a FULL DAY for larger tasks.
In other words, decrease your to-do list down to one activity. This is relevant for bigger projects, like managing your finances, doing your taxes, emotional decisions, or deciding on major life changes. We tend to let that list get bigger rather than simplify it smaller.
3) Take a social media detox for extended time.
Checking our phones is a habit. Often, we don’t even realize we are doing it. We must break the habit, which takes time. If you find yourself reaching for your phone when you’re bored, instead learn to default to reach for “deep work.”
4) Stop checking email 450 times per day.
Again, checking our email is a habit. If you find yourself refreshing your email inbox, you’re at that point where you need to step away from the computer (assuming you’re not expecting an incoming message) and focus on a to-do list item of importance and significance.
5) Separate “busy work” from “deep work.”
The biggest mistake is trying to do both, namely letting busy work infringe on deep work. It is in our nature to try and multi-task, but that very thought is distracting from deep work. Deep work may mean making deep level connections from one project to another, uncovering patterns, or identifying opportunity, but it is not by nature a “multi-tasking” event. Block time for each (admin/busy work vs. deep work).
Take pride in your “craftsmanship.” Get good at something by being willing to practice patience and consistency. Focus on going deep rather than wide.
It’s not always about only doing what you love, but learning to love what you do.