What is deep work?

The idea of focusing without any distractions in today’s world seems like an impossible feat. With the temptation to scroll social media, and the constant influx of emails to work through – completing a task to the best of our ability has become tricky to say the least.

Man focused on working at desk with MitoQ

While immensely valuable and crucial to our working environment and economy – the ability to produce work more efficiently, productively and focused is becoming increasingly rare.

  • It takes an average of 20 minutes to fully recover your focus after a distraction.
  • 50% of employees admit that they are distracted by their phones at work.
  • 7/10 employees say that their emails have a detrimental effect on their quality of work.

Over the years, many tools have been developed to help us maximize our potential in today’s digital age, and deep work is one of these tools. The movement was first pioneered by the US author and college professor Cal Newport. In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport provides tools to harness focus, eradicate distraction and help us co-exist with the demands of today’s advancements in tech.

Followed by successful founders and industry disruptors like Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates, Deep Work is a formula proven to drive results when it comes to productivity and being more efficient with the time you have. In his book, Newport suggests that to be truly productive, you need to block out time throughout the day (every day) when you are completely uninterrupted. In these time blocks, you can then zone in on one task for the entire block of time with no distractions (aka deep work).

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The rules

Reduce digital distractions

Distraction is the enemy of creativity and focus. Every time you switch between tasks, check your text messages or emails, or get up and make another cup of coffee – your brain will still be caught up in the break of momentum.

Distraction in the form of a smart phone or device is a whole new level of inefficiency. While avoiding distraction from devices seems nearly impossible, there is a way to minimize these interruptions during stretches of deep work.

  • Leave your phone on charge in another room – during shorter periods of deep work (e.g. 90 minutes), it’s likely your phone isn’t an essential addition to the task at hand – out of sight, out of mind!
  • Turn off notifications – better yet, switch to airplane mode. Any sounds or notifications that come flashing across your screen are going to impact your focus and snap you out of your deep work. Remember, you can check these during your break!

Choose a style that works for you

To get the most out of this tool, you need to realistically fit deep work into your lifestyle. Newport outlines the different working styles, or “philosophies” you can follow based on how you’d like to schedule your work.


With this approach, you block out 1-4 hour periods of time at the same time each day, e.g. between 8-10am every weekday. You could either be working on the same task or starting a new task each day. Start by committing to an amount of time first, remembering that 4 hours is the maximum amount of deep work anyone can sustain in a day.


This approach is the most flexible, allowing you to fit in deep work wherever you can in your schedule (when you have enough time, i.e. at least 90 minutes). This could be scheduled in at the start of each day when you’re going through your calendar and identifying any free time between meetings or appointments. While this is a flexible way to ease into deep work, it does require you to switch into deep work mode quickly which can be tricky for beginners – but if you prefer the flexibility of assessing your capacity each day, this approach could be your best bet.


This approach is not realistic for most, because it often means outsourcing. The monastic approach is about eliminating all “shallow work” in your life, which Newport defines as those mindless tasks that can easily be performed while distracted, like scheduling meetings or coordinating projects. By getting rid of emails, project coordination/management, and all of the other menial tasks that fill your day – you’re naturally left with more space and time to do what you need to do with a high level of focus. While it’s not as realistic, this approach is extremely effective because it means you’re focusing on deep work at all times.


This approach involves setting aside large blocks of time (at least a full day) for deep work, and the rest of your time is dedicated to everything else – like shallow work. Instead of eliminating shallow work all together, the Bimodal approach means you spend the majority of the day in deep work – and then returning to normal programming.

Bill Gates practices this approach by taking two weeks of the year, every year, to spend time alone away from technology. During his annual ‘think weeks’, Bill Gate devotes his time to reading and not much else – while retreating from society. His goal during this time alone is to allow him the space to consider new perspectives, and it has been revealed that many successful Microsoft products were brought to life during these times of solitude.

Prioritize high impact work

For deep work to be the most effective, preparation is key. Prioritize the work you intend to complete before your session and stick to one task at a time. To get the most out of deep work, you need to concentrate on the most important task on your list and ignore the rest, so deciding what you’ll work on before each session is key. Prioritization will help you avoid multitasking and thanks to your pre-planning, there will be less pressure to switch tasks.

Minimize interruptions

If you’re planning on completing a full-day stretch, or if you know you can’t go long without a snack – make sure you’re prepared with everything you need to work deeply without interruptions. That means plenty of water, or snacks/food if you know you’ll need it.

A deep life is a good life
Cal Newport Author of Deep Work, Computer science professor at Georgetown University

Not only is this practice one of the best ways to maximize productivity and focus, it’s about helping you reach your full potential.

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