“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. . . create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate,” writes Cal Newport in his bestselling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Most professionals constantly juggle multiple responsibilities and face many interruptions—digital and otherwise—every day. At Ergotron, we know that moving more helps increase productivity, but there are other ways to maximize your daily efforts, too.
Newport’s “deep work” thesis is simple: you should aim for three or four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted concentration for the most productivity. He gives examples of people who have done this successfully, like Nate Silver whose highly accurate election forecasting has made him a superstar in the world of statisticians and political pundits.
Deep work is important, even if you’re not aiming to be a superstar. Technology continues to change at a rapid rate and many of our skills are lagging behind. So how can people catch up and even benefit from continuously evolving technologies?
Be Open to New Challenges
We must continuously evolve, and that means quickly and continually mastering difficult things that require focus, concentration and, you guessed it, deep work. Newport devotes nearly half of his book to providing advice about how to get in the regular habit of working deeply.
Spoiler alerts: allowing yourself to be bored is encouraged and engaging with social media is not. (“Once you’re wired for distraction, you crave it,” he warns.) You also will need to learn how to say “no” on a regular basis.
The author admits his advice is unpopular and believes it’s why few people engage in deep work.
“Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological. Even worse, to support deep work often requires the rejection of much of what is new and high-tech,” he writes.
Recommendations for Deep Concentration
But even if you’re not ready to quit social media or give up your favorite tech tools, Newport provides useful ideas about how to keep it from destroying your ability to achieve deep concentration. Among his recommendations:
Set aside time each day when you do not engage with the Internet.
Limit your focus to what’s important for that day and distractions will fall away.
Keep a scorecard like comedian Jerry Seinfeld who uses a wall calendar to mark each day he writes new jokes.
Newport dispels the idea that people can simply summon their willpower to work deeply on demand, regardless of distractions. He compares willpower to a muscle that has limits. And giving that muscle rest is vitally important too.
“Support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed,” Newport advises.
This should include keeping a list to ensure everything you need to do the next day is captured, along with a plan for how you will tackle your list the following day. He also recommends having a set phrase to say out loud that cues your mind “it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”
Newport’s bottom line?
“When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”
We’d like to suggest one more useful strategy for keeping your mind sharp: get up and move your body!