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Last Updated on April 14, 2020

Deep Work: 9 Grounding Rules to Stay Focused

Deep Work: 9 Grounding Rules to Stay Focused

“Deep work” was first coined by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, in a 2012 blog post.[1] He went on to expand upon this idea in his 2016 bestselling book, appropriately titled Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

What exactly is “deep work”? Well, according to Newport himself:

“Deep work refers to a professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Put more simply, it’s being able to stay focused on your most important and demanding tasks. When you’re able to do this, you’ll end up working smarter, not harder every day. More importantly, you’ll have a more meaningful life.

But how can you do deep work more effectively? You can start by following these 9 rules to stay focused.

1. Understand How You Work

If you want to implement deep work into your life, you first need to choose the scheduling philosophy that fits best with the way you work and live. According to Newport, there are four scheduling philosophies:

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  • Monastic: This is where you focus almost all of your time on deep work, such as high-leverage activities. As such, you eliminate all other distractions, like social media.
  • Bimodal: Here, you divide your time between deep work and shallow work on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. For example, you may spend an entire week only on high-leverage activities, but the following week would be devoted to tasks like checking emails or updating slide presentations.
  • Rhythmic: This is where you split your daily schedule between deep and shallow work, like doing your deep work in the morning and saving shallow work for late afternoons or evenings.
  • Journalistic: In this approach, you fit deep work in when you have availability in your schedule. One example would be when a meeting gets canceled — you could now slot that time for your deep work. Another would be to kill endless meetings, they don’t help

Experiment with each if needed. The rhythmic philosophy is probably the most realistic for the majority of workers. Unless you’re writing a book, most of us can only focus on deep work for so long or put off certain responsibilities to a later date. Also, it’s the easiest and most effective technique because you can schedule your deep work around when you’re most productive.[2]

2. Establish Deep Work Routines and Rituals

After determining how you work best, you need to realize that we all have limited willpower. That means you have to have the discipline to stay completely concentrated and focused on the task you’re currently working on.

The best way to achieve this is to mentally prepare for deep work, as well as create an environment that encourages you to remain focused. As Newport explained in his book:

“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary, to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

Here are some ways to develop those routines and rituals:

  • Develop a deep work schedule and routine. In addition to your work schedule, create morning and evening routines that will set you up for success, such as reviewing your calendar in the morning and meditating at night.
  • Set rules for diving into your deep work. For example, when focused on deep work, you close your office door and turn your phone off until it’s time for a break.
  • Work in an environment that’s distraction-free and comfortable — Don’t park at a busy coffee shop with the intention of getting deep work done.
  • Determine how long you want your deep work session to be. The human brain can only focus for so long. While this varies from person to person, a survey conducted by Toggl found that most people can only focus on a task for one to two hours.[3] Start small, with 15-minute sessions, and work up to longer sessions.
  • Take note of anything that helps support deep work, such as specific refreshments, music, white noise, or tools. Make sure you have these available.

3. Prioritize Using the 4DX Framework

In Deep Work, Newport highlights the 4DX framework described in The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Although this was developed by business consultants to be used for companies, it’s also useful in helping individuals work on what matters most.

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  • Focus on the Wildly Important. This is a limited number of critical and essential goals that your Deep Work hours should be reserved for.
  • Act on the Lead Measures. Two metrics are used when measuring your success: lag and lead measures. Lag measures are your output, such as how many blog posts you wrote today. Lead measure is the time spent engaged in a state of deep work, making progress toward your most important goals.
  • Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. Have a visible tracking system, such as Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” productivity secret.
  • Create a Cadence of Accountability. Hold yourself accountable by committing to daily or weekly reviews to see what you’ve accomplished. You can also use this information to plan for the following week.

4. Embrace Boredom, and Take Breaks

This may sound counterproductive, especially in such a fast-paced world, but it’s perfectly fine to get bored. In fact, Newport says that:

“To succeed with deep work, you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.”

For example, if you were waiting in a food truck line, don’t have your phone glued to your face. Instead, accept the boredom and use this unproductive time to do some deep thinking. This is a type of meditation that asks you to focus your attention on a single problem. The trick is learning to return your attention to a specific problem when your mind starts to wander.

Additionally, you should schedule breaks throughout the day for distractions like social media or chatty co-workers. These breaks help your brain rest and recharge for your next deep work session. This way, you’re not fighting against them — you’re simply scheduling them at certain times so they don’t interrupt your focus.

5. Purge Shallow Work from Your Life

According to Newport:

“Shallow work is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

In other words, this is busy work.

You don’t want to spend too much time on these tasks. For example, instead of spending a bulk of your day with administrative tasks and scattered meetings, block out specific times for these activities, like having all of your meetings on Tuesdays and only checking your inbox three times a day. Better yet, if you have the resources, delegate or outsource your shallow work.

6. Go off the Grid

You don’t have to go to the extreme and literally disconnect from the outside world. After all, you may still need to be somewhat active on social media for your business. But the idea here is to unplug during deep work hours, so you can remain 100% focused.

The easiest way to do this would be to turn off your phone. If that’s not something you’re comfortable with, put it on airplane mode or do-not-disturb mode. You could also turn off notifications for email or social media or log out of them completely. I’ve found a lot of success by removing social media apps from my phone.

7. Get on the Same Page with Others

Perhaps the most disruptive force distracting you is other people. They’re not doing this to be malicious; they just don’t know that an innocent knock on your door can break your concentration.

Let your co-workers know when you don’t want to be disturbed by closing your door and placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign on it. I share my calendar with my employees so they know when I’m available and when I’ve blocked out time for deep work.

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I also do this at home. My family knows not to contact me at the office until it’s time for my breaks, unless it’s an emergency. At home, if I need to do a little work, they also know not to interrupt me in my home office unless I’ve signaled I’m available.

8. Stop When It’s Time to Stop

It’s a guilty pleasure, but I enjoy the movie “Kingpin.” In one scene, Woody Harrelson is helping to build a barn, and the lunch bell rings. He stops immediately and goes running to get his grub. Needless to say, the others can’t hold up the barn, and it collapses.

But it does illustrate a good point: When the lunch bell rings, it’s time to stop working. This is important for deep work because it can motivate us to stay focused. If you only have an hour to complete a task, you don’t have time for anything else. More importantly, deep work is only effective when you set parameters, like starting and ending points.

Consider setting an alarm, even if it’s just an old-school timer that gives you a five-minute warning. This enables you to wrap things up and not go over that allotted chunk of time.

9. Know the Outcome

Let’s say you have plans to go to a concert after work with some friends. Knowing this, you might have packed a more casual outfit and made plans to meet your friends at a restaurant near the venue. Depending on how late you’ll be out, you might plan on going into work a little later tomorrow. Even if you had a couple of hiccups along the way, like getting stuck in traffic, you know the outcome of the night: You’re going to see an awesome show with friends.

The same mentality is true with deep work. When the brain knows the outcome of what you’re trying to achieve, it will remain focused on that activity until it’s completed to your satisfaction. The idea behind deep work is straightforward: Be more intentional with your time by focusing on the things that push you closer to achieving your goals. It encourages you to be more protective of your time, even if that means quitting social media and saying “no” to requests.

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Bottom Line

If you continue to practice and adjust these rules so they work for you, deep work can help you work smarter and become more fulfilled. Staying focused is hard in a world of distractions, but it most certainly pays off.

More About Staying Focused

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

10 Ways to Find Your Focus When You’re Stressed Out How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses When Does Time Management Matter Most? Deep Work: 9 Grounding Rules to Stay Focused 3 Time-Management Myths You Should Stop Believing

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Last Updated on May 28, 2020

9 Things Successful People Do To Always Get What They Want

9 Things Successful People Do To Always Get What They Want

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to take on the job of hosting my own weekly radio show. My radio show is about finding some of the most successful people in the world and bringing them on my show to ask them about what they did to become so successful in life and business.

In this article, I’m going to share with you some of the key takeaways I’ve picked up from talking to – and reading about – thought leaders from various fields about the things successful people do. Here, you can get some insights on how to get what you want.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go.

1. They Know What They Want

The first and most important thing that successful people do to always get what they want is so simple that most people forget about it: they figure out what they actually want.

When you know what you want, you will also know how to get what you want. If you’re unsure about what you want in life and business, I’d suggest picking up some career and self-improvement books to help you gain some clarity and focus.

2. They Are Assertive

Successful people know that they need to be both bold and sincere. Balancing these two characteristics is the essence of assertiveness.

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Oh, and by the way – being assertive is not a natural talent someone is born with. Assertiveness is a learned skill and anyone can do it, including you!

3. They Learn

You may have heard of the old saying, “great leaders are readers”. For the most part, I’d say this is true.

Let me give you an example. On my radio show, I regularly ask successful people about their habits that lead to success. Do you want to know something really neat? Every single one of them reads books.

Successful people read and learn as much as they can about what they want so that they can get what they want. If you’re curious about how to get what you want, then start reading a book. If you’re low on time, subscribe to a book summary site to get the core concepts of the books in your industry quickly.

4. They Make Things Meaningful

One of the most powerful things successful people do to always get what they want is that they make things meaningful. That is, they ensure that whatever endeavor they decide to embark upon is meaningful to them (and not necessarily to anyone else). They know and understand that it’s only worth it if it matters.

5. They Ask

One big thing that successful people always do to get what they want is this: they ask.

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Most people are too shy to ask for what they really want. If you are too shy to ask, you may never know how to get what you want. So, don’t be like most people.

Here’s an exercise you can do to get over it: next time you’re buying something, regardless of what it is, ask for a discount. Just do it. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll get a chuckle from the Barrista at Starbucks. The best-case scenario is that you’ll get comfortable with negotiating when it’s time to buy your next car.

6. They Take Action

Insight without action is useless. Successful people know that to always get what they want, they’ve got to take massive action.

One of the most powerful exercises I’ve ever discovered is this: never leave the sight of a goal without taking some kind of action towards its achievement. In other words, as soon as you decide you want something or as soon as you set a goal of some kind, do something – anything – that shifts you closer towards getting it.

7. They Use Their Time Wisely

Have you ever heard of NET time? It stands for “No Extra Time”.

For example: when you’re driving and sitting in traffic, are you listening to Mylie Cyrus? Or are you listening to an audiobook?

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Successful people take NET time seriously. Get yourself some audiobook so you can start listening to the best business and self-improvement books available – all while you’re on your way to work in the morning.

8. They Choose to Lead

You don’t need to have formal authority to become a leader. You just need to choose yourself. All successful people know this, and so should you. Knowing how to get what you want requires knowing how to lead the way for others and yourself.

Don’t wait for anyone else to do it, because the truth is that most people want to be led anyway. So, just step up and claim authority. Be the leader you wish you always had.

9. They Contribute

Successful people know that to get what they want, they have to be willing to help other people get what they want.

What happens when you stop doing your job? What happens when you stop caring about your schoolwork? What happens when you become emotionally disconnected from a relationship?

You suffer – that’s what happens. Successful people know and understand that in order to succeed, they need to contribute. They need to add value to the lives of others. They need to do their best so that they can become the best.

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So, Now What?

I hope this article has re-ignited the fire that you already had within you to be successful at any endeavor. The reason why I’m stressing the fact that you’ve already got everything you need to succeed and get what you want is that you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t already motivated to be successful.

At the end of the day, however, all the insights in the world are worth nothing unless you combine them with action. When it’s all said and done, it’s your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career.

But if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started doing the things to help you succeed:

Review this list of the 9 things successful people do to always get what they want and then compare it with where you currently are at each one of these 9 things. Rate yourself in each one of the 9 things. Next, pick just ONE of them to work on every week.

For example, if you find that you’d like to learn more about the business side of the company you work for, then go read the best business books to help you do that.

Never stop learning. Always feed your mind with the knowledge you need to become as successful as possible within your area or industry. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. We’re all busy. Make the time to expand your knowledge.

And remember: every key learning should be immediately followed with action.

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Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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