Insight

On Deep Work and getting things done.

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Deep Work is a concept described by the author and professor Cal Newport in his 2016 book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

What is Deep Work?

Newport describes Deep Work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

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Deep Work vs Shallow Work

  • Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
  • Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Deep Work in Practice

One of the keys to getting things done is to focus intensely without distraction on your ultimate purpose or goal. We live in a highly distracted world of tweets, meetups, instant messaging, instant entertainment, always on and 24/7 news cycles. There is no shortage of what can distract us from our social media timelines, stories, reels, videos, binge watching of mind numbing, low value entertainment. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be entertained too. I watch a lot of documentaries, masterclasses, soccer and basketball highlights but to a large extent, I am kind of deliberate with the kind of media that I allow into my consciousness.

Our time here on earth is very limited, if you are lucky, you live to be alive for at least 80 years. That is 30,000 days, we spend 1/3rd of that time sleeping (10,000 days), 4,000 days for lifetime work, if you add social media and unintentional media consumption to the fray: 2/3rd of our lives would be spent sleeping, working and commuting. 

I often get asked: How are you able to read 100+ books in a year? The answer is deep work. I decided to become a better version of myself, hence I commit at least 2-3 hours daily reading personal development books, audiobooks, and studying the greats. Success they say leave clues, to be the best: Study the Best. The concentrated effort of deep work has made all the difference for me since I started executing with it.

Newport has greatly influenced me in my quest to use technology more mindfully. He practices what he teaches, he is not on any social media platform and for an author that is brave, courageous, and deep. I have read the following Cal Newport books and I would highly recommend them:

I have found Cal Newport books to be very impactful, thought-provoking and change-inducing. These books had a significant effect on my outlook on social media and what I pay attention to. I have since deactivated/deleted all my personal social media accounts with the exception of Linkedin, which is just a placeholder account and I kind of need it for Linkedin Learning (one of my favourite learning platforms).I have since been more productive as a result and this blog is a testament to the power of deep work.

Deep Work is one of the secrets of my being able to achieve the following challenges that I set for my self yearly.

To be more productive using deep work, try to routinize your goals and keep showing up daily.

Routinize your goals and execute through strategies such as deep work.

Deep Questions with Cal Newport

Newport runs a podcast (Deep Questions with Cal Newport), where he answers questions submitted directly from readers of his books and blog.

In a recent Deep Questions with Cal Newport podcast session: Ep. 173: What is Deep Work?. Newport defined what deep work is, why it is important and how to do it better. He noted:

What is Deep Work?

Deep Work is an activity that occurs when you are focused without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

  • Easy part: Cognitive Demanding Task
  • The hard part: Doing it without distraction, in the absence of context shifts.

Deep Work is an activity that occurs when you are focused without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

Context Shifts

Context shift is when you turn the focus of your attention from one cognitive context to another. For a session to count as deep work, you cannot be doing those switches. For example, If you are trying to format a page on Ms. Word or Excel, that is not cognitively demanding. If you are trying to write a strategy memo, that is an example of a cognitively demanding task.

You are either doing Shallow Work, Pseudo Deep Work, or Deep Work.

Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Why is Deep Work Important?

There is no moral Hierarchy here. Deep work is not the only type of work that you can use to get things done. It is the deep activities that move the needle. The activity that takes you to the next level, growing your business, makes you more effective. They usually have a foundation of deep work.

Shallow effort gets the work done while Deep Work moves the needle.

We forgot the need for deeply concentrated effort in getting things done. We stopped differentiating between deep and shallow work. We got here due to technological development in low friction communication channels such as email, Slack, high distracting entertainment (youtube, social media, Netflix, zoom, PowerPoint presentation). Our work became more ambiguous, it was not clear what we were trying to do. We got into a mode, where you can finish your day without not really getting things done.

You don‘t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.’ – Jim Butcher

Nothing is better than doing great work, social media is great when others are doing the spreading for you.

In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport suggested the following strategies for engaging in Deep Work:

  • 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.
  • Rule #1: Work Deeply – Ritualize your Work Flow
  • Rule #2 – Embrace Boredom – Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
  • Rule #3: Quit Social Media – Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits
  • Rule #4: Drain the Shallows – Schedule Every Minute of Your Day, Quantify the Depth of Every Activity, Become hard to Reach,

I have found the concept of deep work to be very helpful for getting things done, staying focused on what really matter and becoming more creative. What are your thoughts on deep work?

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile -info@lanredahunsi.com

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