If you’re looking to take your career to the next level, I recommend carving out time to engage in deep work. What is deep work and why do we need it?
Four years ago, I made the decision to step out of the daily operations of my business. Since then, I’ve had much more time to work on my business, rather than in it.
The lessons this has taught me about how I work have been powerful. I now have a new appreciation for the power of doing focused, distraction-free, value-adding work.
What is deep work and why do we need it?
In his book ‘Deep Work,’ Cal Newport argues that humans do two different types of work: Shallow work, and deep work.
The trouble is, our days are increasingly becoming filled with shallow work. Emails, meetings, surfing the internet, filling out spreadsheets and making phone calls. All things which when you look back in a year’s time, won’t have added any real value.
Deep work, on the other hand, adds tangible value. It’s focused, distraction-free, and involves really getting to the heart of a problem in your business, learning a new, complex idea, or engaging in genuine creativity. Essentially, all the stuff that’s not easy to do—it requires intentional time and effort, but when it’s done, it’s the kind of work which changes your business entirely.
The impact of deep work
Stepping out of operations four years ago, I naturally had more time to engage in deep work. I’d take days away from the office, and really try to get on top of issues that had been bugging Pure SEO for years. And the results?
Phenomenal! After years of feeling like my time was spent fighting fires, I finally felt like I was contributing real value to the business. The difference in my brain power was tangible when I stopped operating in such a distracted state, and began engaging deeply with the core drivers of our business.
For anyone looking to take their career to the next level, I recommend carving out time to engage in deep work.
How to avoid the distractions of today
There’s a reason we’re living in an age where shallow work is the norm. Our environments are geared towards distraction, from Twitter to open-plan offices, making deep work difficult to achieve.
Here are three ways I structure my time to avoid distractions, and make space for value-adding work:
Get in early, or out late.
One way to steer clear of attention-grabbing temptations is simply to avoid them entirely. How? Get into the office a few hours before everyone else arrives, and do your most important work then. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to focus when there’s no one to chat to in the staff room. I try to squeeze in at least a couple of 2-3 hour long blocks of deep work, either before or after office hours, each week.
Take the day.
One of the best ways to do deep work is in one big chunk. I’m talking about turning off your phone and email, and focusing all day on a specific area. Not all jobs allow this, but you’d be surprised how many do. The key is proactive communication—make sure to get all of your necessary shallow work done in advance, and let co-workers and customers know you won’t be available. Set these expectations, and more often than not, the world won’t end when you don’t pick up the phone.
Shock the system.
For those who can’t take days away from the office, or bear the thought of waking up early, this one’s for you. Our environment is often what draws us into shallow work, because we’re stuck in unproductive habits. To kickstart yourself into deep work, impose an environment change that will inspire you to use the time well. For me, this means going to a nice café—if I go to the effort of getting in my car, driving, buying a coffee and nestling into a good spot, I know I’m much less likely to spend that time mindlessly scrolling on Facebook.
In today’s world, the skill of being able to engage in deep, value-adding work is a rarefied one. Set yourself apart, and take your work to a new level, by intentionally making the time and space to focus deeply. If you’re anything like me, you’ll see the results quickly and fall in love with the process!