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Last Updated on February 16, 2021

How to Use Deep Work to Kill Distractions and Boost Productivity

How to Use Deep Work to Kill Distractions and Boost Productivity
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Deep work, as defined by author and professor Cal Newport in his best selling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, is a concept born out of the difficulty many people have today in handling distractions caused by the boom in digital communications.

These distractions prevent us from focusing on work that matters and contributes towards us feeling overwhelmed and overworked every day, yet at the same time, leaving us feeling we are not doing work that really matters. We are reacting rather than being proactive.

Deep work prevents us from reacting by scheduling time for focused work where we turn off all our notifications and devices for an hour or two and sit down in a quiet place, undisturbed, to focus on work that matters. It allows us to focus without distraction as we practice moments of digital minimalism.

It works, and it is something I have been using for years when I need to get a book finished or I have an important project to complete. Time spent on planned focused work puts me in a position to get my projects completed on time and with high quality.

How Deep Work Helps You Refocus

There are many benefits of deep work. Here are my favorite ways deep work can help you to become much more productive and effective with your time and your work.

Unimportant Distractions Are Gone

How often have you received a text message saying, “Did you get my email?” Checking emails is one of the biggest time wasters there is. Just looking at a message like that takes your focus away from what is important.

The refocusing time is estimated to be anywhere between three and twenty-one minutes. Turning off your notifications stops these unnecessary interruptions and allows you to focus on your work without the effects of attention residue.

Quiet, Deep Work Time Allows You to Think

When we allow all these distractions to enter our life, we find there is little to no time for thinking. And yet, thinking is an important ingredient if we want to produce quality work.

Giving yourself time each day for deep work will allow you to think clearly and begin producing better quality work

Begin to Feel More Fulfilled

When you start spending more uninterrupted time on important work, you will find you feel more fulfilled. This is a result of you getting important, fulfilling work done and reducing the amount of time you spend on unimportant things.

Make Fewer Mistakes

When you are constantly distracted from the work at hand, you will make more mistakes. When you allow yourself to stay focused on one task, you will make fewer mistakes because you are not having to stop and start a piece of work.

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Need Less Time to Do the Work

Of course, when you are making fewer mistakes, you spend less time doing the work and revising. This allows you more time to do more quality work.

Deadlines Are Easily Met

When you schedule deep work on your calendar each day or week, you can confidently plan out when you will do the work that has deadlines.

Knowing you will have periods of uninterrupted time to work on a piece of work will give you the confidence you need to meet the deadline.

Less Stress

When you know you have the time to do the work without any interruptions, you begin feeling less stressed about what you have to do.

A great example is writing this article. I have a deadline, and I have scheduled two sessions of deep work to get it written and edited. I feel no stress, as I know I will complete it on time.

The Quality of Your Work Will Improve

The problem with allowing distractions into your work time is that you are not fully focused on the work. By giving yourself total focused time on a piece of work, you will naturally improve the quality of it.

The Amount of Work You Get Done Increases

When you are completely focused on the important work, you will find you get a lot more done in each session. Just two hours per day focused on work that really matters will dramatically improve your output.

You Have Time to Deal With Distractions

One of the fears people have about scheduling deep work is they will miss out on something important. The reality is that it is unlikely, and even if there was something important, you will still see it after your deep work session.

Receive More Respect

When your boss, colleagues, and customers/clients see you schedule time for deep work, they begin to respect you more because they admire your discipline.

Very few people have the necessary discipline to sit down and focus for two hours without looking at their phone, email, or notifications. Those of us that can do that are treated with a lot more respect.

People Will Respect Your Time More

Ever noticed the people in your office who do all the chatting are the ones always complaining about how little time they have to do their work? While it may seem those people are popular, the reality is people are not respecting their time.

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When you start doing undisturbed deep work, people will begin respecting your time much more.

Your Self-Discipline Will Improve

One of the peripheral benefits of practicing regular sessions of deep work is you will find your self-discipline becomes stronger. Self-discipline is the foundation of achieving so many things in life, from your goals to improvements in your health and relationships.

Your Efficiency Will Improve

In today’s world of distractions, it is very hard to be efficient with the work we do. We get dragged down avenues of procrastination because we are always trying to attend to too many things.

Practicing deep work every day allows us to focus on one thing, which leads to much greater efficiency.

Big Projects Will Get Completed

This one is one of the biggest benefits I have found with deep work. There have been many projects I felt were either too big or too complicated to get completed. After a few sessions of deep work, these projects start getting done, and after only a short period of time, they were well on their way to being completed.

Your Work-Life Balance Improves

Many of the reasons we find it difficult to maintain a good work-life balance is because much of the work we have to do is done in fits and starts. When this happens, there is often the need to do catch-up work in the evenings or on the weekends.

Deep work prevents this from happening because you work on the important work in a focused state, leading to more of your work being completed well within the deadlines.

Know How to Distinguish Between Important and Unimportant Work

Deep work forces you to decide what work is important and what work would have the biggest positive impact on your projects. When you begin practicing deep work regularly, you start to focus more on the high value work and less on the low value work.

6 Steps to Use Deep Work to Ignite Productivity

1. Use Time Blocks on Your Calendar

The first step to taking advantage of deep work is to block time out on your calendar. To do this, review your calendar for the next day, and identify where you will have one or two hours free for focused work[1].

Time blocking

    Ideally, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon is what you are looking for, but be flexible. If you have a relatively free morning and back to back meetings in the afternoon, then block time only in the morning.

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    2. Start Small

    If you have never blocked time out for focused work before, then start small.

    Begin with thirty minutes, and gradually increase your time. It should not be difficult to find 30 minutes a day to sit down in a quiet place and get on with your work.

    Once you are comfortable with 30 minutes, increase the time to 1 hour. Just this 1 hour every day will massively increase your productivity.

    To get an extra boost on eliminating distractions and finding moments of focus, check out Lifehack’s free guide: End Distraction And Find Your Focus.

    3. Decide What You Will Work on the Day Before

    This step is crucial, because if you do not plan what you will work on before you sit down to do deep work, you will waste valuable time looking for something to do.

    I recommend you take 10 minutes before you finish for the day to make a decision on what you will work on during your focused work time.

    An additional benefit in doing this is you give your subconscious brain time to develop some creative ideas for the project you are going to work on.

    4. Find a Quiet Place to Work

    If you stay in your normal work station and try to do your focused work, you are going to be interrupted by someone or something.

    Try to find a quiet place to do your work. In an office, find a meeting room where you can work undisturbed. Alternatively, if you are permitted to do so, do your deep work sessions in a local coffee shop or at home.

    What you are looking for is a regular place you can do your deep work that will allow you to go into focused work mode quickly. Using the same place will put you in the right frame of mind as soon as you sit down and start.

    5. Find Your Best Time

    Some people are naturally morning people, and others are naturally night people. To really get the benefit of deep work, schedule your deep work sessions when you are at your best.

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    For me, that is early in the morning. I do all my focused work between 6 am and 8 am where possible. I’ve found that between 6 am and 8 am, I am also less likely to be disturbed, and there are not likely to be any meetings at that time.

    6. Be Consistent

    To get the full benefit of deep work sessions, you need to be consistent.

    Consistency develops habits. Once you are in the habit of reviewing your calendar the day before and blocking out a couple of sessions each day where you go into deep work mode and doing it, it becomes something you just do.

    Consistently spending time in deep work mode will very quickly give you a return of increased productivity and less stress.

    6. No Excuses!

    Never allow yourself to make an excuse for not doing your scheduled deep work session.

    Of course, there will be times when a crisis occurs and you have to re-schedule, but never allow yourself to make excuses like “I’m too tired” or “I’m not in the mood.”

    Once you allow yourself to make an excuse for not doing your deep work session, you will eventually stop doing it.

    Be strict with yourself, and be strategic with scheduling your deep work sessions. If you know you are going to have a night out with your friends that could finish late, then do not schedule a deep work session for early the next day. If there is a risk an afternoon meeting will overrun, then do not schedule a deep work session after the meeting.

    The Bottom Line

    The ability to focus is a valuable skill if you want to achieve your goals and become successful. Practicing deep work and truly mastering this skill will make you free from distraction and benefit your work, your career, and your life. All you need to do is decide when you will do your deep work.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Todoist: Time Blocking

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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    Published on August 3, 2021

    5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule

    5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule
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    These days, it’s harder than ever to focus on your daily tasks and stay productive. There’s just too much going on around us. Between endless social media notifications, mountains of emails, and the latest must-watch content on countless streaming media services, staying focused isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to maintain a productive daily schedule.

    You might be shocked to find out that there are some simple tricks you can use to take back control of your day and get everything done. It all begins with organization. If you plan out your days in the right way—taking distractions into account in advance—you can eliminate some of the unexpected diversions that rob you of productivity.

    Of course, you’ve got to commit yourself to following a schedule every day. And if you aren’t willing or able to do that, you can stop reading right here.

    But if you are willing to learn what it takes to build a productive daily schedule, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to go over the five simple steps you can use to maximize your output, eliminate wasted time, and work at peak efficiency every day. If you’re ready to take back control of your day, let’s get started.

    1. Discover Your Optimal Work Schedule

    Before you can decide how to make the best possible use of your day, you need to understand how your physiology and personal work style play a role in your productivity.

    For example, if you’re a morning person, it might be best for you to put your most important tasks right up front in your daily schedule. Conversely, it would be a disaster to leave those things for the end of the day.

    But you can even go further than that.

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    To discover your optimal work schedule, you must first collect some data. Start by tracking your work habits (whatever they currently are) for about two to three weeks. Make note of the times of the day when you get the most done, and log any external distractions that may be interfering in your work. The idea is to discover when you’re at your natural energy peak and filter out external factors working against you.

    This accomplishes two things. First, it will help you to zero in on your most productive hours. Second, it will identify which distractions rob you of the most time. And once you know those two things, you will be in a much better position to build a schedule that maximizes your productivity.

    2. Block Off Your Productive Time

    After you’ve figured out what times of day are the most productive for you, the next step in creating your new schedule is to block off that time and reserve it for your most important work—and by blocking it off, I mean you have to arrange for those times to be distraction-free and preserved completely for working.

    If that means you have to configure your Wi-Fi to shut off during those hours to keep from falling down the internet rabbit hole, so be it. If you have to set an auto-responder in your email to let everyone know they’ll have to wait for a response at a later date, do it. If you’ve got to turn to a time-locking app to prevent you from taking too many smartphone breaks, that’s fine, too.

    In short, you need to create an environment where you can concentrate on the tasks at hand and see to it that you only have the tools you need to complete those tasks. Then, you can schedule your most important work each day into those time slots and you can be reasonably sure you’ll get all of it done.

    If you think that’s extreme, let me assure you, it isn’t—and I can demonstrate why.

    Just look at the repeated studies that indicate that the average worker is only productive for about three hours per day.[1] Now, go ahead and look back at your data from step one. I’d wager that you came up with average daily productivity that’s somewhere close to that number.

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    If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading an article looking for the path to a more productive schedule. You’d be writing one, instead.

    In any case, you should now understand why it’s so critical to jealously guard your most productive time in this way. By maximizing what you get done in those hours, you’re maximizing your total output. It’s that simple.

    3. Schedule Appropriate Break Times

    There is one thing—and one thing only—that you should allow to interrupt your most productive time: periodic breaks. As strange as it might sound, we tend to be most productive when we work in sprints. And even stranger, statistical analysis reveals that the ideal length of each work sprint is 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break.[2]

    Yes, you read that right. And yes, this means you should allocate almost an hour of your standard 8-hour workday to doing non-work-related tasks. It will allow you to focus better during your work sprints and help you get more done. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!

    The best part is that this also holds during your less productive hours. That means you won’t be wasting the time before and after your peak productivity hours. And while you won’t be at peak efficiency, you’ll still get more done than you once did.

    Before we move on, you might be wondering: isn’t this just the Pomodoro Technique by another name? The answer is—sort of.

    That particular technique calls for working in shorter sprints—25 minutes, in fact—with even shorter breaks in between them. While it may boost productivity as well, it’s also quite difficult to build a schedule around. The reason for that is obvious: most peoples’ workdays include things like mandatory meetings and check-ins that last longer than 25 minutes (whether your schedule should include these is another matter we’ll get to momentarily). That means you’ll be trying to carve up your time in a way that can’t help but become inefficient.

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    With a sprint time closer to a full hour, your options increase. You can cluster your 15-minute and half-hour meetings together to get them out of the way during one of your less productive hours and cluster your task-filled sprints together in your most productive periods. And once you get a handle on how long your average task length is, you’ll come to see why this works out well compared to the Pomodoro approach.

    4. Schedule Availabilities in the Shortest Possible Windows

    The trouble with what we’ve covered so far is that you won’t be working in a vacuum. That means co-workers, family members, and even phone scammers are going to do everything they can to interrupt your days and harm your productivity. They don’t mean to do it—except the phone scammers, of course—but the effect is the same either way.

    To accommodate this, you’re going to have to schedule time in your day to deal with things like phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and email correspondence. But there are two tricks that can help you tame all of those time-draining tasks and keep them from overwhelming your day.

    The first is to set aside specific times to handle such tasks and to let everyone around you know that you won’t be available at any other time. By doing this, you’re pre-empting many of the distractions that you’d otherwise have to deal with. If you warn others about your availability times in advance, you don’t have to feel bad about ignoring calls and emails as they come in—or sending them straight to voicemail or an auto-reply.

    But none of that will stop people from making demands on your time, anyway. After all, you can’t eliminate every meeting from your schedule—even though there’s strong evidence to suggest you should try.[3] But what you can do is change the default conditions of those meeting requests.

    To wit: if you have a calendar system where people can request meetings with you, try lowering the default meeting time in that system. This is possible in Google Calendar as well as in Microsoft Outlook, and likely other scheduling apps, too. Change your default to the shortest time that makes sense for your specific needs. For Elon Musk, this translates into 5-minute windows.[4] For the rest of us, something like ten or fifteen minutes should suffice.

    The reason this works is that it forces people requesting your time to ask for more of it, instead of consuming it by default. And guess what? You’ll likely find that most people either won’t bother to ask or even notice that you’ve shortened your availability windows. That’s an instant time-saver for you.

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    5. Avoid Multitasking at all Costs

    Even though you may believe yourself to be an all-star multitasker, I have bad news for you—you’re not. Nobody is. Multiple studies have proven this again and again.[5] And the more you try to do it, the less efficient you’ll become. And you’re also likely to increase the number of errors you make in your work and have to waste even more time cleaning up your own mess.

    From a daily scheduling perspective, the takeaway here is obvious. It’s that you should try to find a place in your schedule for every single necessary task you’re aware of, and try to avoid the temptation to squeeze unscheduled tasks into the mix. But you can do even better than that.

    If you examine the reason that we humans are so bad at multitasking, you’ll find that it’s because our brains struggle to navigate switching between different types of tasks. This creates an effect that researchers call a switching cost, which means we unconsciously waste time fumbling to adapt to each new task. In other words, trying to complete two tasks at the same time will always take longer than doing them in succession.

    You can use this knowledge to your advantage by scheduling similar tasks back-to-back in your individual work sprints. When you do, you’ll find that you’ll get more things done in each time window and waste much less time. When you add that time savings up over the course of a day, it’s a bigger deal than you think. Research indicates that switching costs rob us of up to 40% of our productivity, so reorganizing your task list in this way might almost double your productivity.[6]

    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve made it this far, then you should now know how to build yourself a daily schedule that maximizes your productivity. And if you can manage to stick to that schedule even as the world around you tries its best to get in your way, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers.

    Just try not to gloat when you wrap up your work early and get back to your life while everyone else struggles to keep up. Instead, you should offer them your help with getting their schedules under control. They’ll be certain to appreciate some tips from an acknowledged expert.

    More Tips on Daily Planning

    Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

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    Reference

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