Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on May 6, 2019

How to Use Deep Work to Wipe out Distractions And Boost Productivity

How to Use Deep Work to Wipe out Distractions And Boost Productivity

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 over-worked 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.

It does work 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. Two hours set aside for planned focused work puts me in a position to get my projects completed on time and to a high level of quality.

How Deep Work Helps You Refocus

There are many benefits to deep work. Here are my 17 favourite ways deep work can help you to become much more productive and effective with your time and your work.

1. 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 wastes 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 what is important—your work.

2. 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

3. Begin to feel more fulfilled

When you start spending more uninterrupted time on the 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, unfulfilling work.

Advertising

4. 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. You will be more focused.

5. Need less time to do the work

And 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.

6. 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.

7. Experience 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. I know I will complete it on time.

8. 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 your work.

9. 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.

10. Have time to deal with the distractions.

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

11. 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.

Advertising

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.

12. 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 chatterers are popular, the reality is people are not respecting their time.

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

13. 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.

14. Your efficiency will improve

In today’s world of detractions, 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.

15. Projects you thought would never get completed begin to 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.

16. 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 at 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.

17. 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.

Advertising

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.

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.

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. It is surprising how much you can get done in 1 hour and so, make it a goal to get to a daily deep work session of 1 hour as quickly as you can. Just this 1 hour every day will massively increase your productivity.

3. Decide what you will work on the day before

This step is crucial. 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. Plan ahead.

I recommend you take 10 minutes before you finish for the day and 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 do your work

If you stay in your normal work station and try and 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.

Advertising

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

For me, that is early in the morning. I do all my focussed 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 they 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. Practising deep work 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: Pexels via pexels.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

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

How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done What Is the 80 20 Rule? (And How It Helps You Succeed in Life) 7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions How to Compartmentalize Time to Boost Productivity & Get More Done

Trending in Smartcut

1 How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch 2 How to Make Going Back to School at 30 Possible (And Meaningful) 3 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 4 30 Best Procrastination Quotes to Get You Back to Work 5 How to Set Short Term Goals for a Successful and Highly Fulfilling Life

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

Advertising

Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

Advertising

One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

Advertising

But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

Advertising

It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next