Let us start understanding the need for deep work with a mindfulness activity. Just for today, turn on the screen time tracker on your phone. Some smartphones allow you to also see how much time you have spend on each individual app.
If you have this feature, turn it on. The results will amaze you.
At the end of your workday, whenever that is, take a look back at your phone usage. How much time did you spend on social media and communication apps like Whatsapp? The iPhone will even spring stats like how many times you picked up the phone in a day and how many notifications you receive every hour!
About a decade ago, the smartphone entered our lives, and laptops made an appearance at almost all workplaces. It was considered a matter of pride for employees to be handed a company laptop, but it took us all a while to spot the fact that doing so was simply a way of ensuring that we were available 24X7. Then, with the phone coming into the picture and a whole host of communication apps following suit, it is almost a sin today to not always be tuned in.
Now, that’s where the conundrum also is. As human beings, we really cannot multitask. Traditionally, women have been credited with the ability to multitask but more recent research shows that no one really can, and those who do it anyway work from a sense of not having a choice.
In other words, we aren’t supposed to check and respond to Whatsapp notifications while working on a keynote, we aren’t supposed to answer calls in the middle of an important meeting, and so on. The same also applies to our personal lives- we aren’t supposed to work after a certain point in time!
Let us, then, explore the wonderful notion of deep work and how a few lifestyle changes can help you make that happen.
What Deep Work Really Is
The Japanese concept of Ikigai really sums up what the highest ideal for deep work should be like- you should be working on something you enjoy and believe in, you should be good at it and you should be getting paid to do it. For many of us, at least one of these components is often missing. This idea became more popular with Cal Newport's seminal work, Deep Work (available on our bookshelf).
Culturally, too, some countries value some attributes over the others. In the Asian context, having a job often means having money and being good enough to actually have that job. Developed countries usually focus more on enjoying the job and less on the earnings. In both cases, the innate flow of deep work does not happen.
Here is what deep work encompasses on a daily basis:
• For the task on hand, you have sufficient access to the tools, people and materials you need to do a great job
• You are willing to take the time it needs to do a great job
• There is no looming deadline that you are racing to meet
• You work on the task at that time of day when you feel most comfortable taking it up
• You have a fair idea of when you expect to finish, and don’t worry about communicating this honest deadline
• The work stimulates your mind and encourages you to push your cognition to its limits
• Deep work has a clear long-term goal and it satisfies your personal goals on some level
• You come out of a deep work session with a clear sense of accomplishment. You’d do anything to dive in again.
If that sounds like a utopian dream, that’s because it is. For one, not all work is equally stimulating and there are tasks that have to be done in order to get to the point where you can enjoy the actual work. For example, to begin a project, you have to send a proposal, get approvals, talk to people and delegate, etc. Because we’re human, we each enjoy doing some of these tasks but not all.
In fact, good leaders are able to see the big picture of who is good at doing what, and therefore delegate accordingly.
How To Get In Some Deep Work Every Day
As we’ve discussed, deep work is extremely rewarding at the individual level as it stimulates the brain’s cognitive function.
Hence, it is important that you find at least a couple of hours at work each day when you engage your brain in activities it really wants to perform. Of course, this is also the time to stay far away from the smartphone. In fact, some people recommend doing away with the laptop, even, to just focus on a singular path. However, it isn’t practical to code on a piece of paper, so find an approach that works best for you. No distractions is the key.
Then, there are a few different approaches to follow to immerse yourself in deep work.
• The monastic approach is the most severe of them all. You maximise deep work by doing away with all shallow endeavours. Of course, what you consider shallow is open to interpretation. The closest examples are monks and others who have renounced everything else in the pursuit of purpose. In your day, you can devote fifteen minutes to practicing this level of focus, to begin with.
• Bimodal approach dictates that you dedicate one day of the week to deep work only, while structuring chunks of time during the rest of the week for deep work pursuits.
• The rhythmic approach is the best one to form a new habit. You use the same block of time each day to repeat the same deep task until it becomes a habit.
But what should you focus on in a deep work session? That is entirely up to you! We do recommend starting with something you are passionate about. Even a World of Warcraft session is good enough if you can play without looking at your phone, or getting distracted in other ways.
Over time, you can look at following pursuits that are mildly inspiring but you know will help you become better. Deep work experts argue that we are all creatures of habit, and anything that doesn’t inspire us simply falls out of our habit patterns. The aim of deep work, then, is to form these new connections in the brain and find new ways to grow your potential.
So, what will you do with your time today?