How ‘deep work’ could revolutionise your work & life
Sick of distraction, ‘busywork’ and a whole of lot emailing? You don’t need to quit your job to transform your work-life. Cal Newport’s concept of ‘deep work’ allows us to create a more meaningful, more satisfying, more fulfilling role in the job we have now.
Think about your average work-day. Does it include:
- Masses of emails? Definitely. ✔
- Swathes of meetings? Probably. ✔
- A hefty dose of multitasking, interruptions and distractions? ✔, ✔ and ✔
You might be thinking, “So what? Isn’t this what most work looks like in the early Anthropocene?”
Perhaps. But, do you think it could be different? I don’t mean switching careers and becoming a full-time deep-sea-diver or professional energy healer… I mean changing our existing work to make our jobs more meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling.
The solution? We can sink into ‘deep work’ as described by Cal Newport in his 2016 book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Hold your breath, let’s dive in!
Deep vs. shallow work
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate. – Cal Newport, Deep Work (2016)
Deep work is the antithesis of distraction. It’s working in a focused way that benefits us, our workplace and the world.
Deep work is not getting that quick feeling of accomplishment, from answering a ‘reply all’ email or getting to Inbox Zero. While these tasks are satisfying on a moment-to-moment level, Cal Newport describes them as ‘shallow work’: work that can be done while distracted, doesn’t demand much brain-power and would be easy for somebody else to copy.
On the contrary, deep work is often challenging. It’s getting stuck into a report for hours, writing a whole chapter in two-hour-long blocks without interruptions and giving your whole attention to brainstorming ways to fix a problem. It’s tough, but it’s meaningful.
Deep work is meaningful work
Deep work is meaningful because it allows us to focus on what really matters. It allows us to:
- Crowd out the less meaningful things in our lives – If we’re unfocused, our negative bias means our brains will focus more on what’s ‘bad’ or lacking. But, if we focus our attention on what is meaningful, the less meaningful areas in our life will get crowded out.
- Reach a state of flow more often – According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” When we give ourselves the time and space for deep work, we’re able to reach this state more often.
- Create high quality work we’re proud of – If we don’t go deep, we can’t create the intensity needed to make something of real value. Cal Newport uses an equation to demonstrate this: “High quality work produced = (Time spent) x (Intensity of focus). Go deep or go home!
- Focus in our free time – By working deeply, we create more defined boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘free-time’. If we leave work at work, we can use our full attention to focus on other things like our loved ones, the forest, or learning to knit.
How do we make deep work happen?
If deep work is focused work without distraction, then how do we actually make it happen in our real, flawed, distracted workplaces? Cal Newport’s book is full of recommendations, but here are few starters:
- Book in time for deep work – this could be an hour a day, a day a week or a retreat at a friend’s house over summer.
- Check your emails only at specific times of the day – who says you have to answer them immediately? Break those social norms!
- Create a daily ‘shutdown’ ritual at work – create a set of steps for the end of each workday. This teaches your brain to turn it’s work-focus off.
- Limit social media – train your brain to focus without distraction.
- Set up an auto-responder on your email – if you’re suddenly taking longer to respond to emails, then it’s a good idea to create realistic expectations from clients and colleagues.
Becoming a Deep Work Devotee in the age of distraction is certainly a challenge, but one that can absolutely revolutionise your work and life. Have you tried embracing deep work at your job? Share your journey in a comment below.