Every year twice I take off 3 working days out of my schedule and go to a quiet place along with my laptop and journal. I reflect, think, and write my thoughts to bring more clarity on what the next 6 months are looking like.
I am often being asked - Really, does this help?
Yes, it does. After all, this approach works for Bill Gates. It works for me and I think this practice can work for most of us. The idea is to remove distractions from the surroundings and create a state of concentration that maximizes focus and creativity.
But you don’t have to go find peace and creativity only once or twice a year. In the current world of constant distractions, the art of ‘Deep Work’ is becoming rarer and rarer.
Earlier last month, I created a poll around Deep work.40% of the participants said they can do only 1-6 hours of Deep work in a week. Interestingly 23% showed curiosity around - What is Deep Work? And that became the inspiration for writing this piece.
Deep work: “Activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limits.” The concept of Deep work was coined by Professor Carl Newport. He advocates cultivating a routine and carving out a few hours away from all communication devices to focus on cognitively demanding, creative, concentration demanding tasks.
Shallow work is the exact opposite of Deep Work.
Newport defines shallow work as logistical and coordination tasks that can be performed while distracted, like work coordination and communication tasks.
Shallow work is the enemy of Deep Work. The concept of ‘Deep Work’ is sexy. But is it practical? Can we really eliminate Shallow work? Unfortunately, it is not possible to eliminate Shallow Work from our lives. Someone needs to write those emails, do follow-ups, make logistical arrangements and handle coordination.
In fact, as per an Independent Survey 60% of the working time is spent by knowledge workers spend time on their non-core tasks like answering calls and emails, scheduling meetings, coordinating projects, and other logistical issues.
And yet, we do not understand the hidden cost of ‘Shallow Work’
Shallow work means distractions. Distractions force your brain to switch attention. When you switch attention, a part of your brain is still stuck with the previous task. This is called 'Attention Residue' Attention residue means each task has a switching cost. In fact, some of the previous studies conclude that 'it can take more than 20 minutes to regain the momentum lost due to distraction. So next time you want to pick up your phone casually to check your WhatsApp, think again.
The value of focus is well known to all of us for centuries.
We know Deep Work is important and Deep Work is rare. But how do you really cultivate the ability to do more and more ‘Deep Work’. Here is how -
Newport outlines four different approaches to follow as you decide how to schedule your deep work. Depending on your lifestyle, some approaches may work better than others:
As you initiate yourself in Deep Work, fix the details like:
In the age of the ‘Smartphone Revolution,’ everyone needs to be available every time. Hack, I have seen a lot of people pride in how quick they are to respond to messages. While being available is definitely an advantage, remaining available all the time, can create a working environment full of distractions. While avoiding digital distractions completely may be difficult, minimizing distractions is still doable with a few simple strategies:
Rest is equally important as work. Unfortunately, our ability to do Deep Work is finite. Since Deep Work is cognitively demanding, you need to set aside time to recharge every to make your deep work habit more sustainable.
Newport suggests setting clear boundaries is key to a successful Deep Work strategy. He recommends creating a hard cut-off time for work each day and even setting a routine like a “shut-down procedure” that you complete at the end of each workday. This can be 10-20 minutes when you take a last look at your inbox, how you’ll accomplish any unfinished tasks, and review your schedule for the next day.
To create a habit of deep work, set short-term goals to track metrics like how many hours you want to focus on each day. Newport suggests creating a scoreboard where you can record your daily hours and check off each goal you’ve accomplished. If you are new to ‘Deep Work’, try ramping up slow .for example, you might start with one hour per day, then work up to four hours over a period of three months.
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