On one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, a recent episode discussed how we are constantly distracted. And these constant distractions negatively impact our ability to engage in deep work.
I actually wrote another blog post inspired by an earlier interview from a different podcast (The Next Big Idea) with Cal Newport. In that interview, they specifically focused on the distractions of email and its important on deep work.
According to computer scientist, Cal Newport, “Deep Work” is a skill worth cultivating because very few people are doing it anymore. Deep work is what allows us to engage with our creative side and truly immerse ourselves in a project or activity. When we are constantly checking phones, responding to emails, or social media notifications, we cannot focus on tasks that take more brainpower.
I think this is why sites like focusmate have become popular.
So what are some things we can do to engage in more deep work?
How to reclaim your deep work time
Cal Newport says that deep work is a skill that will become more and more valuable by the day. This is especially true for those in the creative industry where ideas are your currency.
To achieve deep work you need to have a long stretch of time that’s free of distractions and obligations. The first step to reclaiming this time is to schedule it into your calendar just like any other meeting or appointment. Make sure you schedule this time at least a few days in advance so it doesn’t get bumped.
Once you’ve scheduled your deep work time, you’ll need to make sure you protect it by setting ground rules with yourself and others. These rules should be simple and actionable and help you avoid distractions during this time.
Some good rules might include not checking email or social media during your deep work session. Or, not responding to texts or calls unless they’re from an emergency contact. Whatever works best for you!
Let people know you’re unavailable during those hours
To reclaim deep work time, you need to let people know that you’ll be unavailable. This can be difficult for some people, especially if you’re a natural people-pleaser. You might worry about what it will look like if you turn down an invite to lunch or don’t immediately reply to emails. But the fact of the matter is that your work is more important than any of those things.
When someone asks me to do something during my deep work hours and I have to turn them down, I explain why I’m doing so. I say something like this: “I’m unavailable from 8 a.m. – noon on Friday mornings because those are my deep work hours. If the request can wait until the afternoon on Friday, I’d love to help out. Otherwise, would another day/time be better?” This way they understand what’s happening and they know they can reach out again later or at another time if they need me.
The key is to never apologize for your deep work time with phrases like “Sorry I didn’t respond earlier” or “Sorry I couldn’t make it.” These phrases make it sound like you’re apologizing for being unavailable. In reality, you’re apologizing for not answering their request right away—a totally different thing!
Put boundaries on your work environment
Many people have trouble staying focused on the task at hand. They get distracted by emails, phone calls, and other notifications.
The problem is that our brains are hardwired to seek out new information and experiences. This is especially true when we’re bored. This tendency is strong enough that it can even lead to anxiety if you don’t give your brain something to do.
But how can you focus on your work when so many distractions are trying to pull you away?
Put boundaries on your work environment. If you work from home or in an open-office plan, you may find it difficult to concentrate on your tasks because of interruptions from colleagues or neighbors. To block out distractions, close off parts of your home or office with a “do not disturb” sign. You can even use curtains or headphones while at home. You can also try using an app like Freedom or Self Control that blocks websites for a set amount of time (for example, 30 minutes).
Create an environment that promotes deep thinking. In order to get into a state of flow where deep thinking happens naturally, it’s important to create a physical space conducive to getting lost in thought.
Turn off all electronics and distractions
A few years ago, I was at my desk working on a particularly difficult problem. But, in the background, I had my email browser up and a notification popped through.
I realized that this was not the first time this had happened. Once I answered one email another would inevitably come through that needed my attention. So, to truly engage in deep work, email cannot be easily accessible.
The solution is simple: Turn off all electronics and distractions when you need to focus on deep work. This means turning off your phone (or switching it to airplane mode), putting away your laptop, and closing your browser tabs — everything except what you need to do your work uninterruptedly for the amount of time you’ve scheduled.