Businesses are continually asking information workers to do more with less in order to maintain a competitive edge. In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport argues that the ability to focus without distraction is becoming an increasingly valuable skill for workers, as it helps them produce improved results in a shorter amount of time.
According to Newport, deep work is “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.” Yet with the prevalence of distractions in today’s workplace, focused work can be a difficult skill to cultivate.
Here are seven ways to help you guard your time from distraction and free up time for deep work.
1. Prioritize Your Work
Prioritizing your to-do list can help you get organized and free up time for deep work. But don’t stop at numbering your list. Take a look at what doesn’t need to be done - or doesn’t need to be done by you - and see what you can move off of your list, so you can spend time on the tasks that truly require your attention.
2. Plan Every Minute of Your Work Day
To make time for deep work, Newport advocates for planning every minute of your work day and scheduling blocks of time to do deep work up to a month in advance. While this may seem daunting, it will help you be realistic about what you can get done in a day, and make sure that you have time set aside for focused work.
3. Say No To Meetings
Take a look at your calendar and assess your meetings. Are there any meetings you are attending where you’re not contributing? Or maybe you’re not the best person on your team to contribute and could send someone else in your place? Drop meetings and delegate where you can to ensure that the time you’re spending in meetings is worthwhile.
4. Automate Reports and Status Updates
As you’re reassessing your meetings, see if you can find other, more efficient ways to share information. For example, you might automate reports to be sent to a certain group of people on a regular basis. You might even be able to forgo a status update meeting by automating your weekly status reports.
5. Take a Break From Your Inbox
Email will constantly interrupt you if you let it. Collaborative work management platforms can provide an antidote to email interruptions by providing structured workspaces that enable workers to capture conversations in the context of their work, so the relevant information is in one place for whomever needs it.
Stay focused by staying out of your inbox during the time you’ve scheduled for deep work. You may even want to set up an out-of-office message letting people know that you are doing focused work, or simply that you’re not available to respond to email for a certain amount of time.
6. Hide Out
If you’re in an open office plan, headphones may not be enough to help you do deep work. Research shows that office workers have a hard time concentrating at their desks. Consider booking a conference room or working from home to really focus on the work at hand.
7. Disconnect to Manage Distractions
The business world expects constant connection and instant responses. To spend time in deep work, turn off your mobile devices. If you need to work on your computer, turn off all alerts and close any programs that aren’t needed for your work. Consider disconnecting from the internet as well.
Making Time to Do Focused Work
Carving out and defending the time to do focused work isn’t something that will come naturally to most people. Our world is so full of distractions that even if you do commit the time and space to do deep work, you may find yourself distracted nonetheless. But you’re doing the important work of building your concentration muscle so you have the ability to produce stellar results in a fraction of the time.