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Transform your productivity through deep work

From the EXA Career Conversations Series with Lauren Albert
Jean
|
August 9, 2022
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Lauren Albert is a Backend Software Developer for Shopify. Driven by squeezing the most out of life, Lauren made a career switch into tech after ten years as a teacher and mentor to students with learning disabilities, as well as a performing musician in the Bay Area. She lives in New York City with her partner - enjoying her best life but still growing into a better one. She loves to cook with bold flavors, celebrate every occasion with her family, and stay active by skiing, lifting, or just walking around the city.

What is deep work?

Deep work is the ability to concentrate your focus on a task without interruptions and the key to maximizing your productivity. However, with the variety of distractions in our connected age, achieving deep work has become increasingly difficult. 

In this EXA Career Conversation, Lauren Albert shares tips from her own experience and Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World that will help you harness a deep work ethic. 

How do you reduce distractions that prevent deep work?

Some common lower-level distractions like text and social media notifications are easier to ignore as you can simply toss your phone to the side. But as the day goes on, we tend to lose control over our will to eliminate these distractions. This is where setting up reinforcements in your environment becomes necessary, like putting your phone in another room or setting a time limit for phone activity. 

Higher-level distractions, like support requests, are more difficult to mitigate as they often feel urgent. Personally, I always felt that I had to address questions right away, but the context switching lowered my productivity by doubling the time it took to refocus on my original task. Since I started to block out designated times for support requests, I’ve almost doubled the number of PRs I’ve submitted. 

What does Cal Newport suggests for deep work?

Replace distraction with focus by intervention

Our urge to turn attention toward more superficial things is very human, which is ultimately hinders us from working deeply. You can address this by optimizing your working environment for productivity. For example, the room I use as an office is pretty small, and there aren’t many windows, which is perfect for deep work, providing a physical sense of focus. 

Decide on a Depth Philosophy 

In Cal Newport’s book, he goes over the following philosophies of depth that you can use to achieve deep work. 

1. Monastic Philosophy

The monastic philosophy aims to eliminate as many shallow distractions from your daily life as possible. This philosophy is mainly employed by those with a distinct, well-defined goal and dedication. This less popular philosophy is harder for the average working individual to adopt.

2. Bimodal Philosophy

The bimodal philosophy splits your time between periods of deep focus on discrete goals and everything else. Carl Jung practiced this philosophy when he would go back and forth between staying at a cabin he built in the woods every couple of months and coming back to attend to his many clients and work at busy hospitals. 

3. Rhythmic Philosophy

Following rhythmic philosophy means setting consistent times dedicated to deep work and making deep work sessions part of your daily routine; it eliminates the need for you to think about when you’re going deep and eventually starts a rhythm. 

4. Journalistic Philosophy

The journalistic approach uses any moment of spare time to switch to deep work, making it the most flexible yet challenging approach. Channeling deep work at will may take some practice, but it is the best way to capitalize on your time amidst unavoidable distractions. 

Which philosophy could work for you?

Depending on the task, you can mix and match the philosophies that work best for you. 

Ritualize

Our bodies and minds gravitate towards habit and repetition, so finding a deep work ritual that fits you and your project will solidify your deep work sessions. 

To build your ritual, you need to address these three points:

1. Where you work and for how long

Your ritual should be in an optimal location for focus. Designate a space as a place for depth and cue yourself to work. Close the door, change the lighting, or clean your desk. You also need to set a timeframe for the session to give your mind a sense of discrete challenge rather than an open-ended slog.

2. How you’ll work

Eliminate any tempting distractions by setting rules for yourself during deep work time. For example, don’t allow yourself to leave your desk or check text messages. The structure prevents you from draining willpower to decide whether you should or should not do something. 

It’s also important to design metrics for how you spend your time. Have specific goals in mind that you can zero in on during your session.

3. How you’ll support your work

To complete your ritual, you need to ensure you are mentally and physically ready to enter deep work. Check if you have access to enough food to maintain energy, take a short walk to clear your mind, or whatever gets your head in the right space to make the ritual more effective. 

“Design your own ritual that works for you!”

What are other strategies for improving productivity?

Don’t work alone

Open offices can spark serendipitous creativity by surrounding people with other smart and diverse individuals to create conversation on fresh ideas. In reality, the benefits wash away the larger the officer becomes and fails to support deep thinking. The better model is the hub-and-spoke model, which separates the effort to find inspiration through conversation and personal reflection to build that inspiration.

To be more intentional about collaboration, we can use the whiteboard effect and work with someone else on a proverbial whiteboard. By pairing with another person, you are forced to short-circuit the instinct to avoid depth since you value each other’s time and want to produce results. 

Execute like a business

Once you figure out what you need to enter deep work, you need to know how to execute it. 

1. Focus on the wildly important 

The first step to execution is determining the outcome of your deep work sessions. Set specific goals with clear outcomes to provide motivation and purpose for the session.

2. Act on the lead measures

In business, lag measures are your wildly important goals, and lead measures are the behaviors that drive the success of lag measures. In our case, time spent in deep work would be a lead measure for your goals. 

3. Keep a compelling scoreboard

Keep a tangible display of your deep work hour count on a scoreboard to track your progress.

4. Create a cadence of accountability

Hold personal retrospectives on how your deep work endeavors are doing to keep yourself accountable. 

Be lazy

With all the energy it takes to do deep work, you need to give yourself time to recharge. At the end of the workday, pause any work thinking until the next morning. It can be difficult to turn off work, so you have to be intentional about your shutdown ritual. The shutdown ritual should address any incomplete tasks or goals from the day with a plan to revisit them later.

By following these strategies, you will achieve more depth in your daily work and reach new levels of productivity. 

If you’re interested in more lessons on productivity, follow Exaltitude on LinkedIn for upcoming Career Converstation workshops. 

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