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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

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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    Last Updated on March 2, 2021

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

    You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

    Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

    Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

    But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

    • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
    • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
    • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

    So without further ado, let’s get started. 

    1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

    First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

    Think about it.

    Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

    2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

    If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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    You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

    Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

    3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

    In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

    So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

    It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

    4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

    An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

    This will cause you to do one of two things:

    • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
    • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

    Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

    So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

    For example, which seems easier:

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    Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

    20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

    The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

    Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

    5. Visualize Yourself Working

    I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

    Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

    A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

    For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

    First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

    Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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    All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

    6. Control Your Internal Distractions

    Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

    A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

    Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

    Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

    If you can build your focus muscle, you will be able to take control of your internal distractions all the time. How? Join this free Fast-Track Class – Focus Like Top Achievers to find out.

    Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

    7. Remove External Distractions

    This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

    Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

    It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

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    8. Skip What You Don’t Know

    This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

    Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

    9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

    There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

    The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

    The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

    10. Manage Your Momentum

    Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

    This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

    For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

    Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

    More Tips on Staying Focused

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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