Marketing, the Internet, email, the telephone and even your own mind recalling tasks and events can distract you.
In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Cal Newport points out that distraction gets in the way of the level of concentration required for you to be successful and that great work is only really achievable when you focus deeply…This is where you can induce a flow state.
Newport recommends we build a routine so that we can develop the habit of Deep Work. He calls this the 4 DX framework:
Discipline 1 – Focus in the important and say yes to the interesting…Where interest and importance meet, you will be drawn into acting and concentrating. If you try to do more, you will actually achieve less.
Discipline 2 – Focus on the lead measures of performance. Lag measures indicate your performance on what you wanted to improve such as customer satisfaction that is received after the service is finished. Lead measures score the behaviours that will drive success such as the number of visits to your website.
Discipline 3 – Keep a Compelling Scorecard – measure your time in deep work and when you achieve a milestone (like a book review). Measuring helps you identify how long you are in deep work and if you are improving and the milestone will give you a calibration for how long something takes.
Discipline 4 – Create a Cadence of Accountability – Regular checking of activity and results will drive you towards success.
Newport also points out that rest and downtime is important. Its worth getting lazy now and then to recharge.
- Downtime aids insight
- Downtime helps you to recharge for deep work
- The work that downtime replaces is usually no that important.
Newport further notes that the ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained. We start by removing distractions. The Internet can be disconnected, telephone turned off or muted.
Start working and focus as long as you can then take a break from focus. If you need regular Internet activity, then schedule it…perhaps 5 minutes every hour. Such a strategy ensures you are still in contact but reduces distraction to a minimum.
Limit your time at the desk giving you an artificial deadline and so driving you to focus for a short and sustained period of time.
Newport also recommends the art of productive meditation. Undertake a practise other than work that absorbs you and become comfortable with a period of time committed to a task. This could be learning a guitar tune by heart or walking or jogging.
In doing so, Newport offers 2 suggestions:
1 – Be wary of looping and distractions – Distractions draw your mind away from the task at hand and looping is the unchallenged act of repeating activities that you have already completed, such as re-editing a document again and again.
2 – Structure your deep thinking –
- Review the variables in the problem
- Define the specific next step
- Answer the questions
- Consolidate your gain with a review
Newport has several other recommendations for those of us looking to do Deep Work.
Quit Social Media and take control of your time again. If you must use social media, then focus on the vital few. Use the 80:20 rule to chose where you send your social media time and why that is the most appropriate choice.
Define your personal goal and the key activities supporting this goal. This is a more relevant to do list.
One of my goals is to craft well written language that helps people understand complexity better.
The activities that support this goal are:
- Patiently and deeply research the topic
- Write carefully and with purpose
- Use critical thinking to maximise clarity and minimise the number of works used.
Avoid using the Internet for entertainment – It will be difficult to discriminate the use of the internet for research and fun, making focus more difficult.
Plan in advance where you are going to spend your spare time and then you are less liekly to be distracted.
Finally Newport suggests we ‘Drain the shallows’. We do this by:
- Reducing Shallow Work
- Finishing your working day by 17:30 (5:30 pm) to force you to focus
- Become harder to reach so that you don’t get too many tasks
- Make the people who send you emails do more work and so they will stop sending you emails
- Filter the emails that add no value or merely distract you out
- Remember you don’t always need to respond!
Deep Work is a very practical book, and it is perhaps one of the more important books you will read this year. Recognising that there is a challenge to face in reducing distractions is the first part of the battle. Cal Newport has now given us some additional skills and behaviours that will enable us to create the time and mental space for more Deep Work.
Dare to Aspire