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5 minute read

Deep Work: How to Remain Focused in a Distracted World

Deep work is the ability to focus on an activity without distraction. The more focused you are, the more productive you will be. This allows you to do more and generate better results in less time.

We are always connected digitally, thanks to the Internet, emails, and social media, but we are also overly distracted by various stimuli. We find it difficult to focus on our work, and our daily activities become hazy. We desire to be more productive and present, but we lose heart, blaming it all on technological progress.

To reach this goal, we should seek out Deep Work: the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding activity without distraction. It’s the ability to quickly grasp complex information and generate better results in less time.

The book Deep Work by author Cal Newport explores how the rise of technology has harmed our ability to focus on activities – and how to overcome this impediment.

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Deep work is becoming increasingly rare

Shallow work is much easier, and the working world encourages it. Deep work requires single tasking, no interruptions, and a period of concentrated focus. As a result, your performance and productivity improve.

According to research, multitasking reduces productivity and focusing on a single activity at a time maximises productive output. You can complete more tasks in less time when there are no distractions. This means that the more focused you are, the more productive you will be.

Attention residue affects your work performance if you keep switching between tasks

Many believe that performing multiple activities at once is the most efficient use of their time. However, this thinking is incorrect. This is because multitasking does not equate productivity.

Sophie Leroy, a University of Minnesota management professor studied this occurrence in 2009. She explains that while switching from work A to task B, our attention remains tied to the first activity, causing us to focus on the second task only partially, resulting in poor performance.

In short, because of the effects of attention residue, multitasking actually reduces productivity.

While it may appear harmless to keep the social network and email tabs open in your computer browser, the sight of items popping up on your screen also distracts your focus, even if you aren’t instantly responding to notifications.  Therefore, if you want to be as productive as possible, work on a single activity with complete attention and no distractions—work deeply!

The four rules for deep work

The rules below will show you how to incorporate deep work into your life:

Rule 1: Work hard. Many people are put off by the effort required to work deep. When you consider our environment’s culture, it becomes even more challenging to execute. Our cognitive capacity is limited. As it depletes, we tend to choose shallow work.

Rule 2: Embrace boredom. You should work on your concentration skills, especially outside of work. If you give in to distractions at the first hint of boredom every day, it will become difficult to cultivate the focus required for deep work. You will also need to train and retrain your brain to avoid getting caught in a never-ending loop of being distracted. For example, stop the impulse to check your phone notifications every time you hear a beep. Develop your capacity to ignore distractions.

Rule 3: Reduce the use of social media. Working deeply will be hampered if you need to check your social media account every few minutes.

Rule 4: Shallow work should be minimised. Repetitive tasks which don’t require much thinking are examples of shallow work.

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Build rituals and routines around deep work

You must first build rituals and routines to include deep work into your life. This way, deep work will become simpler and second nature to you.

Newport outlines four methods to help you make time for deep work.

  1. The monastic approach: remove all distractions and isolate yourself like a monk. This includes locking yourself in a room.
  2. The bimodal strategy: set aside a clearly defined time period for work and leaving the rest of your time free for everything else.
  3. The rhythmic approach: develop a habit of performing deep work for blocks of 90 minutes and tracking your progress with a calendar.
  4. The journalistic technique: use any unexpected free time in your everyday routine to conduct in-depth thinking or work.

Regardless of your strategy, remember that deep work is deliberate and not done on a whim. Therefore, rituals that prepare your mind for it are necessary.

One ritual you could try is defining your zone. It might be as simple as hanging a “do not disturb” sign on your office door. Another practice is to set boundaries, such as disconnecting from the Internet or shutting off your phone.

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Downtime is essential to sustain deep work

Deep work expends energy and attention and can be mentally draining. As such, Newport shares that you should have regular and substantial leisure time when you are not preoccupied with work.

Dedicated downtime helps you sustain deep work in the long run. By setting time for rest, helps to trigger insights and creativity, and is required to replenish your batteries. To work deeply, you need to rest and recharge deliberately.

Productivity is not about working more hours but about making the most of the hours spent and recovering optimally from the hours you do not work. Make deep work a regular practice in your daily work life and take your productivity to the next level!

This article is co-created by NexPage, a translated book summary app, and Workipedia by MyCareersFuture.

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