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Deep work in 5 steps
Valuable things come from focused attention
In 1995, I worked in a building housing 600 employees with offices of various sizes. One day, our senior manager informed us that most offices were to be replaced with an open plan office area. The manager explained how we would all benefit. One weekend, work took place to create the open plan office. On the Monday, tall filing cabinets around the senior manager’s desk effectively recreated his personal office. If a flag, on a filing cabinet, was visible then he was not to be disturbed. So much for us all embracing the new open plan office, we peasants outside the cabinet office thought.
Since that day, I found open plan offices very difficult to work in; deep work was no longer possible. At the end of the working day, I often felt frustrated and stressed. I wanted to do work that reflected my abilities. Somewhat appropriately, Jason Fried calls open plan offices distraction factories.
The importance of deep work
What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore plays in defining the quality of our life. - Cal Newport
Distractions are a constant. Devices, people and, even, our own thoughts. It’s so difficult to focus and undertake deep, meaningful work. Cal Newport says, Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master new information and produce better results in less time. Deep work allows us to learn things, be creative, solve complex problems and produce our best output. There are intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. We have a sense of control, enjoyment and fulfilment. And the ability to undertake deep is valuable and rare.
Improving our ability to focus
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. - Simone Weil
If we don’t know what you are trying to achieve then we cannot be distracted from it. Being intentional with my time is important. I want to establish a good balance between deep and more shallow, but necessary, work.
The following steps help me undertake deep work:
Eliminate distractions. Create a distraction-free environment. I silence my phone and turn off computer notifications. In Creative Momentum, I define a Bliss Station as a space and time where our minds can wander or focus. I am free to be creative.
Synchronise with energy levels. I block out my calendar for stretches of time to focus. For many people, including myself, mornings are best time.
Break large tasks down. Smaller tasks help me stay focused and increase the chance of completion.
Take breaks during the day. Deep work takes much mental energy so is tiring. Most of us can't sustain more than three hours per day. I work best in 40 minute bursts. I also look away from my screen regularly to rest my eyes.
Reward myself. When I complete a deep work session, I give myself a small reward. I step outside, have a drink or engage in a short, enjoyable activity.
With practice, I found that I can focus for longer periods.
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work interview with Jason Fried
How to do Great Work post by Phil Martin
Make Time post by Phil Martin
Cal Newport suggests, To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction. I agree.