You may read the title above and wonder just what “deep work” means. The term comes from a best-selling book by writer Cal Newport (Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World). In it, the author describes how readers can apply his techniques to their work lives and become “superstars” in their areas of expertise.
As one expert on deep work explained, to become a superstar, “you need to develop two skills: the ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. Deep Work is the concept that interlinks these two skills.”
In his book on the subject, Newport says that it is 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.”
As an example, you are supporting a client and must calculate their cost of doing business. However, they sell multiple services, and each requires the maths to be done correctly in order to calculate their “bottom line,” or total cost per piece. You will have to dig deep into their balance sheet, profit and loss, expenses, and so on. You’ll have to focus on identifying comparable industry prices and determine how to reach the most competitive pricing.
This is not easy work, and such tasks sound quite challenging. After all, “hard” tasks are often complex. That means they’ll require your full focus and attention, which can be very difficult in the modern workplace. So, as that expert said, it has to be about “batching”. This is a term used to describe doing work in one long, uninterrupted stretch in order to optimize productivity. They even drafted it into a formula or equation:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Few of us do deep work because it is so difficult. If we call work that is not deep “shallow” work, we’d see how easy it is to do, and why we might naturally lean more towards shallow work options. Answering emails, attending a meeting, drafting a regular report…these are shallow tasks that don’t demand much conscious effort.
Smarter Not Harder
How do you start to do work that is described as deep rather than shallow? We’d offer the following recommendations:
Make a Deep Work Philosophy
Deep work philosophy may be “monastic” or focusing all of your time on deep work; it can be bimodal or splitting your time between deep and shallow; it can be rhythmic and deep work can be done according to the day (i.e. you do deep work only in the mornings), and it can be journalistic meaning it is done whenever your schedule allows.
Make it a Habit
Once you’ve decided on your philosophy or approach, then you must make sure it becomes a daily ritual or routine. This can be done even more effectively if you choose a specific location or timeframe for doing deep work each day.
Make it a Business
If you know what you want to do, you must then figure out how to do it, and that means thinking of your deep work as a business. You need a strategy, you need a way to measure results, and you need a way to keep track of everything, all in ways similar to doing business
Make Time to Rest
Like any effective strategy, you need to build downtime into deep work. Few brains can be intensely focused for more than four hours at a time. So, build rest sessions into the day and let your brain think of anything BUT the deep focus task or batch.
You can become far more productive and successful almost immediately if you start to apply these deep work techniques to your work or “every” day.