What is Deep Work? – 15 Tips To Improve Your Work-Life Balance

deep work

How to Deep Work and Live a Happy Life

We all have heard that deep work is key to happiness and success. The idea of being able to focus for long hours on our work is great, but most of us never really have the time or energy for this. 

There are some good tips in this article to help improve the quality and the quantity of your deep work.

What is “Deep Work” actually?

The ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, and to do it well, is increasingly valuable in our economy. Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, calls this skill “deep work.”

In the book, he describes his concept of deep work: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

The opposite of deep work is shallow work which is typically easier and less mentally demanding. It consists of checking email, taking phone calls, holding meetings, or responding to instant messages. These tasks are usually not challenging for most people and do not push them to their limits mentally or cognitively.

On the other hand, examples of deep work include writing articles or books, developing software, performing scientific research, and similar activities.

The Benefits of Deep Work

Make you happier

As per neurological research, how you perceive the world is shaped by the things you focus on. Thus, if you work deeply, your mind naturally thinks you are leading a meaningful and happier life.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also believes that if you access flow states regularly, you will lead an energetic life and be open to different experiences.

Allow you to enjoy your time off more fully

Deep work is a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

In a study, 45% of the respondents said they were able to complete their jobs in less than five hours per day if nothing interrupted them. This is the reason why companies are focusing on deep work.

Improve your focus

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. 

For example, when Zipwhip partnered with Uplevel, a consulting firm specializing in increasing the effectiveness of teams, they could improve their focus by increasing the amount of deep work they were doing.

The team members reportedly had more time at hand to do high-quality work. They delivered high-quality features in the first attempt and within a predictable timeline.

Deep work is good for business 

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, businesses with engaged employees see a 41% decrease in absenteeism and a 17% boost in productivity. This goes to show how good deep work can be for the overall productivity of your business hires

Deep work helps you make better decisions

When you need to complete a cognitively demanding task or make a difficult decision, deep work will help tremendously. For instance, famous writers like J.K. Rowling implement deep work to concentrate on work. She cut off social media use while writing the Harry Potter series.

4 Rules of deep work

Rule #1: Work deeply

Work deeply means that you stay focused on one task for long periods of time without distractions. It means you try to eliminate all the things that pull your attention away from what you're doing now – email, social media, and so on. You do your best to minimize the number of tasks you do at once.

Rule #2: Embrace boredom

When you feel bored, that means you've been distracted by something else — maybe an email notification or a text message — so bring yourself back to the task by focusing on your breath or body sensations for a few minutes until you feel more engaged again.

Rule #3: Quit social media

Social media is an incredible tool for sharing information, but it's also a huge distraction. Facebook, Instagram, and especially TikTok can be a major hindrance if you're trying to do deep work.

Rule #4: Drain the shallows

The shallows are the distractions, the easy tasks, and the trivial social media interactions. When trying to do deep work, you must drain the shallows.

4 rules of deep work

15 Tips to do deep work and enjoy life

1. Understand your work style

 When we think of deep work, we often think of the intense, focused concentration that comes with it. And while this is true, it's important to remember that there are many ways to do deep work – some more suited to certain people than others.

We all have different personalities, so we have different ways of working. For example, some people are morning people, some are night owls, and some prefer to work in the afternoons. The key is to find what works best for you and stick with it.

2. Write down what you want to achieve

The first step toward doing deep work is to write down what you want to achieve. You can either do it using a pen and paper or map your workflow and goals using tech-savvy whiteboard animation apps

You can't do deep work unless you know what your goals are. You need a concrete direction, and as a result, you also need an idea of where you're headed.

It's easy to get sidetracked by other things. When this happens, it's good to have a list of goals in mind to refocus on the current task when your attention wanders away from it.

3. Build a deep work routine

Schedule deep work so that it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine, like exercise or reading. This way, you'll be able to do it regularly and accomplish more with less effort.

Here are some tips for building a deep work routine: 

  • Build a schedule around your deep work time.
  • Turn off notifications while working on deep projects.
  • Set rules for yourself when doing deep work sessions.

4. Keep in mind: small tasks only 

Your mind needs to be in the present moment. Do not think about the future or past. You will lose focus if you start thinking about something else. This means that it is hard for you to multitask and do deep work simultaneously.

For example, if you're trying to write an article, don't set the goal of writing a book. Instead, set the goal of writing one good enough sentence to pass an editorial review. Then, move on to the next sentence and repeat until you've finished your article.

5. Turn off social media and email alerts

It's hard to do deep work when you're constantly distracted by email or social media. Here are some tips on how to get your inbox and Twitter feed out of your way so you can focus on what matters most.

  • Remove notifications from your phone and computer.
  • Turn off all alerts from social media apps on your phone (and maybe even tablet).
  • Keep notifications turned off

6. Don’t ever touch your phone

If you need to be available for emergencies, then only turn on your phone when you really need it and turn it off again when you don’t. It’s best to leave your phone in another room or in your bag so you can’t hear it ring or vibrate (assuming you have notifications turned on).

7. Work collaboratively with others

Doing deep work is an effective way to get more done, but it can be isolating. One solution is to collaborate with others on projects that allow you to focus on the deep work without being distracted by the social interaction of office life. 

For example, if you have a project that requires writing, consider hiring a virtual assistant or working with an editor on Fiverr.com to proofread and edit your document before sending it off to publishers or editors. 

8. Don’t multitask

Multitasking is a myth — you can only focus on one thing at a time. If you try to do several things at once, you will most likely end up doing none of them well. And even if you don’t multitask, just the perception that you are can make it difficult for your brain to get into a state of flow.

David Meyer, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, agrees. 

Meyer says, 

“As long as you’re performing complicated tasks that require the same parts of the brain, and you need to devote all that capacity for these tasks, there just aren’t going to be resources available to add anything more.”

9. Stamping out shallow work from your life

Shallow work is all the activities that distract you from your main objective of doing something meaningful consistently. 

Some examples of shallow work include checking social media and email every few minutes. Or you constantly check your phone for new messages and notifications even though there may not be anything important coming through those channels at this very moment. 

10. Take breaks from focus, not from distractions

This is the key. If you're working on something important, then distractions can be harmful. But if you're just surfing the web or checking your email every few minutes, then it's actually better for your brain to take some time away from those things.

11. Limit your workday

Deep work demands a certain degree of isolation, so planning for it in advance is important. 

Even if you're not working on something that requires long stretches of uninterrupted time, try limiting yourself to 90 minutes or two hours at a time (this can be easily done by setting the alarm). If you're doing something more complex or mentally challenging than usual, you may need even more time – but don't overdo it!

12. Disconnect from work when deep work ends

If you've been working hard on something all day, don't go home and start working again. Even if it's just answering emails or going over some numbers. If the work is not important, it can wait until tomorrow.

13. Be disciplined and enhance your ability to do deep work

If you want to do deep work, you need to be disciplined. Discipline yourself not to check your phone or other devices during working hours and get into your workflow. If you're not disciplined, it will be difficult for you to focus on what matters most.

14. Evaluate your deep work

If you're not sure whether your deep work is valuable and important, take a minute to reflect on how it fits into your overall goals. 

Is it helping you achieve something truly meaningful? Is it helping you learn something new? Does it contribute to other goals you have in life? 

If so, keep doing it! If not, consider cutting back or eliminating this type of activity altogether.

15. Take a deep breath, do meditation, or play with your pets

After you finish your deep work:

  1. Take a break.
  2. Go for a walk, do some stretches, eat something healthy and fresh, or just sit down and relax.
  3. Put your brain at ease.
  4. Fill up your energy reserves again.

Deep breathing is also known to be effective at reducing stress

You can even do meditation, but you can also go for a walk or do whatever you find relaxing. It doesn't really matter what you choose as long as it helps you recharge your batteries.

Work Deep, Live Well!

In conclusion, it's important to take a step back and realize the value of working hard but also smartly. 

Like any useful tool, deep work can be used or abused. Finding the right balance between depth and breadth is difficult. The motto of this post is “Work hard and play hard” so that you’ll find work-life balance is not that difficult to achieve.

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Beatrice is the Head of Content and Operations at MediaBerry. She helps brands fulfill their vision through words by helping produce sparkling content pieces that convert. When she isn’t busy strategizing, you’ll find her working on her next novel.

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