Why deep work doesn’t work for you


Imagine a week where you get all the work you set out to do and still have plenty of time to treat yourself to long walks, pursue your hobbies, and finally tackle that never-ending list of books you've been meaning to read.

It seems like a dream and the kind that productivity hacks promise to deliver.

But you still struggle with getting things done and find yourself caught in a cycle of trying one hack after another. You watched countless YouTube videos and tried waking up early or taking cold showers to boost your brain power, only to be disappointed by the lack of results.

But there is another way.

In this blog, we explore deep work techniques that can help you get more done in less time and have more free time left over. These techniques may not be the ones you typically hear about, and they may not come with "guaranteed" results. But they can be incredibly effective for knowledge workers who want to work in a more sustainable and satisfying way.

Don't get your deep work and shallow work confused - one requires brain power, and the other is just busy work

The term “deep work” was coined by Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Deep work is any activity that requires intense focus and concentration in order to produce high-quality results. Examples of deep work include creating a presentation for a product demo, developing a new algorithm, or writing a few pages of your new book without getting distracted. These activities often push your cognitive abilities to their limit.

In contrast, shallow work refers to tasks that are relatively easy to complete and do not require a lot of mental effort or concentration. Filling out paperwork, triaging emails, or scanning news articles or other information without taking the time to understand it are examples of shallow work.

The traditional approach to deep work involves setting aside large blocks of uninterrupted time for intense focus and concentration, which are not easy to do for modern knowledge workers. Let's explore some of these hurdles and see how you can solve them.

Stop Reacting and Start Planning: How a Daily Plan Can Help You Do Deep Work

When most of the work happens online, on our devices, using multiple tools (Slack, Email, Asana, Trello, Notion... and the list goes on), it can be hard to maintain a clear overview of our work and priorities. As a result, you may find yourself constantly reacting to incoming tasks or switching tools. This makes it hard to proactively plan, prioritize our work and be intentional about deep work.

One way to overcome this challenge of managing multiple tools and maintaining a clear overview of your work is by using a daily planner app like Sunsama.

It is a planner specifically designed for busy professionals, and it provides a unified daily view of all your tasks, including those from tools like Trello, Asana, Slack, and Gmail. Using Sunsama can easily collate all your tasks, meetings, and emails in one place.

Once you have a clear view of the tasks at hand, you can group similar or low-value tasks together and tackle them in a batch. This allows you to focus on deep work and important tasks without being constantly interrupted by shallow work.

Commit to a fixed schedule

Technology has made it easy to access information and communicate with others, which can make it tempting to answer messages between work or hop on "quick" calls'. But these distractions can be exhausting and don't always help your progress

Here are two simple things you can do:

  • Reserve one day (or a few days) in the week for meetings and reviews. This will leave the rest of the week for deep work.
  • Don't feel guilty about saying 'No' or protecting your time. This sets a higher bar for what gets your attention and what can wait.
  • Before you jump into tasks, decide which tasks are high priority and tackle those while you have the maximum energy.

As Newport notes, “A commitment to fixed-schedule productivity…shifts you into a scarcity mindset”. And hence you use time wisely without getting distracted. It will prevent burnout, and you will be able to enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

Focus is a muscle, and you can build it

We are expected to be available and responsive to messages and jump on calls all the time. It can be difficult to find large blocks of uninterrupted time, and even when we do, we may be interrupted by incoming messages or alerts. Due to this, our ability to concentrate and engage in deep work can become weakened and underused.

But every time you concentrate on one task at a time, it may be writing an article, designing the wireframe for a prototype, or creating a presentation for your clients, it trains your ability to focus.

How can you move through your day looking for chances to give your focus muscle a little workout?

One trick is to add the pressure of time with the Timeboxing technique — set aside certain chunks of time to focus on a given task or activity.

When we have a limited amount of time to complete a task, we are forced to focus deeply in order to finish it. Time constraints can act like "interval training" for our attention centers, helping us to improve our ability to focus and do deep work.

Tip to remember: Just like any other muscle, it takes time and regular practice to develop and strengthen our ability to concentrate. Increase the amount of time you spend on focused work gradually rather than trying to jump right into hours of deep work all at once. This allows the brain to adjust to the demands of focused work at a sustainable pace and helps to prevent burnout and fatigue

Don't say no to shallow work all the time

It's important to note that shallow tasks are not inherently bad or unimportant. They should not be the focus of our time and energy, but shallow work can sometimes provide a necessary break from the intense focus of deep work and allow us to recharge and refocus.

Routine work can help us to stay organized and on track with our daily tasks and responsibilities, which can ultimately support our ability to engage in deep work when necessary.

How can you create a system that prioritizes deep work while giving you some slots for shallow work?

Choose the Rhythmic Philosophy of deep work. It involves taking up deep work during the hours when you feel most energetic and alert and reserving the rest of the day for shallow work.

Once you have collected all your tasks and meetings in one place (e.g., Sunsama), you can differentiate between deep work and shallow work by giving each task a channel. So it's easy when deciding which task you picked up.

You can customize your channels in Sunsama

This is ideal for individuals with a fairly static schedule who can anticipate what most of their days will look like.

The end-of-week ritual of reviewing your work for the week and reflecting on your objectives can show you how you spent your time between deep and shallow work. In Sunsama, by default, you'll be prompted to review your week on Friday afternoon via an in-app notification. You can always pick a different day and time from your settings.

Lack of clarity might be ruining your deep work game

Lack of clarity can be a major obstacle to deep work.

Traditional productivity tips often emphasize the importance of setting clear goals, but if your goals are too broad or vague, it can be difficult to focus and make progress. Without a clear sense of what you are trying to accomplish, you may find yourself worrying about whether you are doing the right thing or not.

Having a clear understanding of your goals and priorities can make it easier to engage in deep work.

When you know your goals, you'll be motivated to focus and make progress. You'll be able to get more done while enjoying your work. This will not only help you get more done in less time but also enjoy it. By taking the time to clarify your goals and focus on what is most important, you can unlock the power of deep work to help you achieve your objectives.

Start by thinking about your ideal life and what drives you. Once you have a vision, set short-term and long-term goals.

Then break those down into weekly tasks and use Sunsama to plan your day-to-day activities. It will prompt you to do that on Monday mornings, but you can change that in your settings.

Here's a detailed weekly planning ritual guide.

Start your deep work today

Deep work can greatly improve your productivity and focus, allowing you to accomplish more in less time. By implementing the strategies discussed in this guide, you can begin to cultivate a deep work practice and learn to harness your most valuable resource – your attention.

To make it easier to incorporate these techniques into your daily routine, consider using Sunsama, a planner app that can help you stay organized and on track. Plus, it's free to try for 14 days, so give it a shot and start your journey towards a deeper work practice today.

Facebook iconTwitter IconLinkedIn icon