What is Deep Work?

We all have experienced Busy Work. There are a lot of low value activities that we do (such as frequent checking of Whatsapp, ineffective meetings, quick responses on Slack) that project a sense of work getting done. But in reality, we’re just filling up our days with busy work – not necessarily the productive kind that can lead to better writing skills, being a top coder and other ambitious goals.

Avoiding these distractions instead of succumbing to them is a better route to achieve excellence and recognition. To really excel at the work you do, you need different approach.

Say Hi to ‘Deep Work’

What is Deep Work and Why It's Important?

According to Cal Newport, the author and professor who popularised the concept, Deep Work is “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration, that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.” Lets break it down to understand the qualities of Deep Work

  • Distraction Free Concentration – Deep Work is solely focussed on the task at hand. You will have to create an environment and go through an experience that only focusses on the task.

  • Pushes Cognitive Capabilities – The idea is to get into state where you are going deeper in your ability to execute on the task. New knowledge and insights obtained help you get better at your skill. You are working towards Mastery.

Now, why is it important? It boils down to ‘Supply and Demand’. The demand for high quality work is only going up as there are a large number of opportunities for anyone to excel in. At the same time, it is becoming increasing hard to focus on the task at hand due to the multitude of distractions and the abundance of low-value tasks that have infiltrated our professional lives.

Benefits of Deep Work for Businesses and Individuals

Develops Concentration Skills

Deep work is a skill – like any skill, the more you practise it the better you get. The more you train your brain to use its deep work muscles the better your concentration will be. This enables you to lock into tasks and stick with them until they are finished. You may only be able to get into a flow state for 40- 50 minutes at first, but through practice you can gradually expand that time. Apart from helping you stay productive and produce high-quality work, working on mentally difficult tasks for long periods of time will help you become more intentional about everything that you want to do.

Transforms you from Good to Great

By engaging in deep work, we can quickly develop new skills or solve complex business problems. In addition, by committing to an elite level of performance – where you produce more and better work in less time – you’re giving yourself an advantage over your competition. Deep work is an important skill, but often overlooked in today’s intense, high-paced work environment. Those who take the time to invest in their skill will be rewarded with a competitive advantage over their peers.

Profound Satisfaction

Deep work is meant to help you accomplish difficult and valuable tasks on a regular basis. This framework allows you to access and extend the productive flow state – when we hit our best stride for producing quality output. When we do something worthwhile, we feel an immense sense of happiness, purpose and satisfaction. Deep work facilitates this.

Fun and Challenging pursuit

We all know that we have unrealized potential within us. Understanding the idea of Deep Work and employing it in our daily pursuits sets a nice achievable challenge. Along the way, you get to appreciate what makes Deep Work effective, learn to be intentional and continue to develop cognitive superpowers in your areas of interest. Its a journey paved with benefits and new experiences to get better.

Why is doing Deep Work hard?

Plethora of Shallow Work activities

Cal Newport defines Shallow Work as “non-cognitive, logistical or minor duties performed in a state of distraction”. They require very little cognitive effort – things like checking emails, browsing the internet, spending time on social media, or sitting passively in meetings. Even though you cannot remove shallow work entirely, you need to make sure that you are aware of how much space it takes up.

Availability Expectations

It can be difficult to focus deeply in the workplace because of work culture expectations. In work cultures where chat & email are present, there is an expectation that the user will be ‘always on’ and ready to respond. The problem with being always-on is you’ll end up doing Busy Work, which prevents you from going deep in your tasks.

Persistent Distractions

Social apps, Slack notifications, meeting reminders, phone calls – the list goes on. Every distraction has a very high impact in derailing a deep worker. Researchers Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke estimate that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover for an interruption. Source: https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf

Deep Work cannot be winged

While possible, its not sustainable to to Deep Work at a moment’s notice. At the core of it, Deep Work is on doing intentional work. Planning for Deep Work helps immensely in preparing the mind to exclusively focus on Deep Work tasks and creates the right cognitive starting point to do Deep Work. This is why planning Deep Work activities ahead helps in actually executing Deep Work tasks.

How to Get Started with Deep Work?

  • Reading Cal Newport’s book on Deep Work is a good start. As a regular practitioner, he shares many insights on what makes Deep Work fulfilling and meaningful.

  • Plan and try out a few Deep Work sessions to understand the experience and benefits of Deep Working.

  • Try out ‘deepwork.easy’, the first Deep Work focussed product that helps you plan, execute and monitor your Deep Work habits. By developing Deep Work habits, you will start to adopt the intentional Deep Work lifestyle to do meaningful work.