Deep Work – How the practice of Intense Focus can help you grow.

 

Deep Work
Deep Work Book

Deep Work is a delightful read. It describes how the power of intense focus can push your cognitive abilities; thereby, helping you grow in your professional career.

On a bright, sunny, and serene afternoon one day, I was in blithe spirit. To enlighten the mood further, I decided to read a book. I am an avid reader; however, due to certain personal commitments in the last few months, I did not get the liberty to engross myself into inspirational and managerial books, which are my preferable genres. Books are one of my favourite companions, and the out-of-touch feeling with them was causing a huge discomfort. Hence, by keeping my annoyance aside and to effectively utilize the current state of affairs (thanks to the weather), I picked up a book and decided to give all my attention and time to it.

And here comes the Murphy’s Law at work. My consummate desire to read intensely on a beautiful day was hugely interrupted by continuous notifications on my phone. When I could not take this exasperation any more, I decided to shut down my phone and focus entirely on my reading where I did not switch it back for the next three hours.

And Voila!!! I was hit by an epiphany. The divine manifestation of disconnecting myself from the technology turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With intense concentration due to the non-distracted environment, I could achieve a milestone where I set the bar for myself by finishing a huge chunk of the book in just three hours. It was unbelievable; I realised the strength of pushing your cognitive abilities. The surge in my productivity and efficiency was perceptible; however, the best part was the profound satisfaction of achieving something at the end of the day.

Think about it; all this enlightenment by one simple step – Working in a non-distracted environment for some time in a day with no access to social media or any person. Fortunately, the book which I was reading – Deep Work by Cal NewPort – absolutely resonated with the exhilaration I experienced on that day. Furthermore, the book helped me in understanding the power of immense focus; especially, the reverence for your work.

 

Book’s Ethos

The book Deep Work focuses on pushing your underutilized cognitive abilities by working in a completely distraction-free environment; especially, when you have to produce something of elite value. We live in an era of digital and social media where their influence hugely impacts our work, both positively as well as negatively. In other words, our constant connection to internet, on one hand, does offer tremendous benefits, but, on the other hand, also severely damages our focus towards the work.

For instance, in corporate jobs, the incessant attention to email accounts, redundant and baseless meetings, social media network tools such as: Facebook, Twitter etc. shatters our concentration; thereby, depriving us from producing valuable output. This concept of working with fragmented attention in case of knowledge workers is rampant. Most of them have forgotten the meaning of “Depth” which is crucial for ground-breaking work.

The author describes deep work in the following manner:

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.

However, there is a contradiction. Modern-day knowledge workers claim that they have been busy than ever. Work has taken up a toll which is affecting their health and personal lives. Why such a discrepancy? The author describes this type of work as Shallow work:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often perform while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

The author further explains:

In an age of network tools, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative – constantly sending and receiving email messages with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. Larger efforts that would be well served by deep thinking, such as forming a new business strategy or writing an important grant application, get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality.

Ask yourself; Do you practice Deep Work? When was the last time you worked with intense focus (without any distraction)? Do you want to know how to implement Deep Work? Let’s find out…….

 

How I implement Deep Work in my professional and personal life?

Cal NewPort has described numerous ways of achieving Deep Work; however, I would like to share the one which I have been following for many years.

The name of this strategy is Scheduling or Planning or Setting up rituals.

Not to toot my own horn, I have always been a great planner. When the author mentioned this strategy of implementing Deep Work in one of the chapters, I could not help but simply pat on my back for what I have been doing since my school days.

Scheduling or planning my day is extremely crucial for me. Sometimes, the details include hour-wise plans in which I bifurcate my entire professional and personal activities in an hour-wise table. I keep it very organised leaving ample scope for last minute modifications. Also, in the evening, I plan the first half of the next day so that I am all clear on my tasks the moment I wake up.

Discipline is must to achieve something, and this strategy has helped me in making my days uber productive. My husband who always preferred “play it by ear” changed after our marriage, and he too started understanding the importance of “Planning”.

However, in my plans, the latest addition of a new ritual has changed my work ethics; I have become more productive. Here is the new ritual which I have introduced in my life:

Disconnecting myself from the network tools and everyone for at least 2-3 hours in a day.

I call this “Disconnection Time-Zone”, and this is no exaggeration. This disconnection amplifies my focus. The attention becomes three-fold; thereby, enhancing my work productivity. I have experienced the rewards as this strategy enables me to produce high-quality work.

With planning, I also perform Risk Management. So when I disconnect myself from everyone, I make sure my husband has our landline number, which no one has, so that he can reach out to me in case of emergency.

I understand this might sound insane to most of you out there. Disconnection from everyone for some time in a day does sound intimidating. Also, it might be difficult for the people around you to accept this fact, but I believe in setting up the expectations. It might be impossible for some of you, perhaps, but most of the things seem impossible at first go. I believe it is absolutely up to us whether we would like to push ourselves to achieve something unachievable.

 

Decide your own Disconnection Time-Zone

Based on your situations and circumstances, you can define your own “Disconnection Time-Zone”. For instance, my preferable timings are 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM or 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Even though I work throughout the day, I perform “Deep Work” during these aforementioned timings. For instance, when I shared this concept with one of my close friends, he was intrigued and decided to give it a go. He picked up early-morning hours from 5:30 AM to 7:00 AM for his Deep Work.

Hence, plan your day well and pick up a Disconnection Time Zone that aligns with your professional and personal goals.

As I have always been a planner, I did not take much time to adapt to this intense-focus activity. Most of the people might face certain issues in performing “Deep Work” initially as the focus will be distracted multiple times. But do not lose hope; keep on practicing and notice the results.

 

Four key takeaways from the book:

1. If it is difficult to quit internet altogether; schedule occasional breaks from Deep Work to give into social media distraction

In the book, the author has mentioned examples of certain famous people who decided to quit social media for a month or so. Once known for their 24X7 availability on social media, these personalities were totally fried up and burnt from their online presence, and this compelled them to “Unplug” themselves.

Result: They struck up conversations with strangers in person; they started enjoying the food without instagramming the experience and so much more. They did enjoy this short stint; however, when the time came to plug themselves back with the online world, they felt the time passed so soon.

Nobody is asking anyone to take the similar action. Therefore, if it is difficult for you to quit internet for a long time, plan your internet intervals well. The author calls it “Internet Blocks”. Schedule occasional breaks from your focus or “Deep Work” practice and enjoy your internet time.

“Schedule in advance when you will use the internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you are allowed to use the internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed – no matter how tempting.”

Maintain this discipline and notice the difference.

 

2. Your leisure time is equally important; Respect the downtime.

Are you one of those people who are still hooked to their email accounts or social media even after coming back from office? Oops…… Not a good sign!

If your connection with “Deep Work” is important in a day then disconnection from work is equally important. A focused task requires energy which is a finite resource; hence, it needs replenishment. The leisure time aids insights and recharges the energy which is required to work deeply.

Disconnect yourself from work once you reach home, and in case you need to check your emails, schedule an “Internet Block” as discussed in the previous point. This strategy will allow you to focus on your leisure time and will also not affect your office work in case the task of checking emails is a norm for you.

If there is one habit of my husband which is my biggest pet peeve, it is checking the Twitter account before going to bed, on our dates, and on all our family outings. It bugs me from the core, and, I do lose my patience, sometimes. I have seen this everywhere – people hooked to their cell phones at restaurants, queues, parks, cafes etc.

I suggested him the same strategy of setting up an “Internet Block” for himself, and things are much better.

 

3. Weigh the pros and cons of social network tools before you use them for any purpose.

Let’s take a simple example. If you need an audience to promote your blog or website, you do need a good online presence for obvious reasons. Similarly, if you are a new writer and are publishing your first book, I do understand the importance of Twitter or Facebook handles in that case too. However, if you are already a famous author such as Malcolm Gladwell or Walter Isaacson, a great deal of time and attention to social media accounts might not be that productive as they have already build-up an audience.

These writers do not think that Twitter is useless; it is just their professional goals do not align with this network tool’s purpose.

Hence, weigh the pros and cons of social media network tools before you introduce them in your professional life. Here are the three basic steps to understand this dilemma:

Define your professional goals.

Once the goals have been defined, identify the activities related to them; thereby, giving a clear picture of defined-goals.

Relate the above mentioned activities with the network tools which you are planning to use.

Let’s take the same example. If a person has launched a new website, and (s)he wants to promote it, social media presence will play a big role. In this case, the professional goals and the activities do align with the social media tool’s purpose.

I use Facebook to make my articles accessible to the right audience; this tool does give me an audience; else, I have lost interest in checking the feeds or posting updates about my personal life. If I do that, it is just to inspire others.

Recently, when I posted a picture of my baby bump after finishing 5 months, the idea was not to show-off but to inspire others to accept this phase beautifully. Many women try to hide their gorgeous baby bumps and become conscious while talking about it. Ladies, it is a beautiful phase; enjoy it fully 🙂

 

4. Identify the shallow work in your professional life and plan effectively to deal with it.

Most of us are unable to perform Deep Work because we have been so busy in finishing up shallow work (Defined in the beginning).

Let’s take an example. My work includes experimenting with new recipes and coming up with healthy alternatives for my audience. I love my work – To inspire others. I devote loads of hours on food as it is a very important part of my lifestyle. One day, I realized that the more time I spend on food and picking up the best ingredients, I feel exhausted and do not get much time to read and write by the end of the day. Also, chopping and cleaning the kitchen (I am a hygiene-freak) were taking loads of my time; hence, I decided to optimize the entire process.

One strategy which the author mentioned in the book to minimize your shallow work is – Quantify the depth of the activity. In other words, identify its importance and then devote your time and attention to it.

In the above mentioned example, I optimized my shallow work by hiring a help who would chop my ingredients, make everything ready and would clean my kitchen at the end; whereas, I will be the one to cook and experiment with healthy dishes. We both started working together and things got better day by day. After a week, I realized that I have ample time to intensely focus on my reading and writing which I was unable to do before.

Hence, I quantified the depth of my activities by figuring out that food is absolutely important for me; hence, I will never be comfortable by hiring a cook. However, I can minimize the labor-intensive work of cleaning and chopping by hiring a help so that I can focus on other things.

One such step affected my reading and writing capabilities positively where I could perform “Deep Work” without worrying about the shallow work I used to do before.

In a similar way, identify the activities which are taking most of your time and attention at your end but are not worth your efforts and focus. Minimize your shallow work by identifying their alternatives so that your finite resources of energy are saved for important tasks.

 

Epilogue

The book “Deep Work” provides a great deal of learning along with various examples of entrepreneurs and business moguls. Perhaps, I could resonate with it more as I have lived my life with discipline when it comes to planning, optimising, scheduling, or managing my work.

Do you know that I do not watch TV? Our TV is in our store room, neatly packed, from the last seven years.

My husband and I decided to follow this discipline when we realised how this idiot-box severely affects our crucial time.

As I always say, we have got just one life, and I prefer to live a focused life because it is the best kind there is.

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