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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

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    Carl Pullein

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

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    Published on May 3, 2021

    What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

    What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

    How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

    Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

    Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

    1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

    If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

    Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

    Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

    Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

    The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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    2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

    “Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

    As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

    Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

    It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

    Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

    Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

    3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

    Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

    To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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    Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

    After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

    Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

    4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

    There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

    Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

    Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

    An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

    The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

    5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

    You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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    This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

    According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

    Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

    To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

    Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

    6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

    Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

    So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

    Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

    These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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    Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

    Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

    Final Thoughts

    Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

    Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

    More About Decision Fatigue

    Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
    [2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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