The Critical Importance of DEEP Work - The Complete Guide
The tech industry, especially the security industry, seems outrageously overwhelming to newcomers, and even as an intermediate “InfoSec Pro” there seems to be an overwhelming number of paths and topics one can focus on. The problem most of us, especially newcomers, encounter is that we don’t know what to focus on. Even when we find a topic to focus on, we seem to get stuck in the vast pool of resources that are available to us.
Cal Newport introduced us to the idea of deep work, which he defines as, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limits.”
It’s possibly best to understand deep work by looking at its opposite. Shallow work is distracted, on and off multi-tasking most workers of today used to. This is the type of work that happens when you finish the day without achieving very much. You start a project, but you have 15 tabs open and are responding to instant messages, emails an,d phone notifications. This is shallow work, and it’s the norm for most workers.
Depth requires focus. To be all-in on a task for a block of time allows you to truly tap into creativity and quality. Deep work is where the magic happens.
Deep Work Is Necessary For Success
When you look at the most successful people in the world – the ones who have accomplished the most – one thing that binds them together is an emphasis on doing deep work.
Novelist Neal Stephenson, who writes massive, epic tomes, once posted the following on his website:
The productivity equation is a non-linear one… This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.
Professor Adam Grant, who churns out academic papers and New York Times bestsellers at a crazy rate, puts his email on auto-reply and blocks out 3-4 days to write.
The famed physicist Richard Feynman invented a myth about himself (that he was irresponsible) so that he wouldn’t have to serve on committees and could devote himself to concentrated work.
The point is this: you can’t achieve good, deep work when you’re constantly immersed in distractions. It just can’t happen.
If you want to succeed, to accomplish big things, and actually make a difference, deep work is your only option.
How To Move Towards Deep Work
It sounds great to talk about deep work, right? You believe that it’s important and know that distractions are killing you. But how do you actually make deep work happen? How do you move from the shallows into the deep end?
Here are a few suggestions:
Eat The Frog
We constantly talk about the importance of “eat that frog”, the concept of doing your most important task first thing in the morning. This allows you to make progress on your most important tasks before the other concerns of the day push their way in.
By implementing “eat that frog” in your own life, you ensure that you’ll do some deep work every day.
Deep work doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t slide into it. If you don’t take control of your time, someone else will. Rituals allow you to carve out time every day for deep work.
Cal Newport recommends:
• Deciding where you’ll work and for how long
• Deciding how you’ll work (will you eliminate internet use?)
• Deciding how you’ll support your brain during the strenuous work (with caffeine, for example).
One of the core concepts of deep work is carving out blocks of time during which you only focus on doing deep work.
One of the most effective ways to carve out that deep work time is through timeboxing. Timeboxing allows you to have a hyper-focus for a short period of time while also allowing your brain a break to breathe.
Set Big, Audacious Goals
You can’t achieve deep work if you don’t have any big goals. This is because, for the most part, only big goals require deep work. You can achieve lots of little things while multitasking and messing around on social media.
Big goals, however, require intense focus. Drive. Full attention. When you have a worthy goal in front of you, you have to go all in.
Writer David Brooks says:
If you want to win the war for attention, don’t say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.
Wow. That’s powerful.
Do you have those big, terrifying goals? That’s how you move toward deep work
Figure Out What Distracts You
Few things kill deep work like distractions. The buzzing phone, dinging inbox, Facebook notifications. It’s impossible to get things done when your brain is constantly moving from one thing to the next.
In order to actually get meaningful stuff done, you’ve got to kill the distractions. Not totally, just when you’re trying to focus. Shut down your email, closeout social media, maybe put your phone in airplane mode. If this doesn’t work, invest in tools that will help you escape.
It’s going to be tough at first, but you’ll be glad you did.
• Determine your big goals. Figure out what you want to do that will make the most difference in your life and productivity.
• Each night, determine the one “frog” you’re going to eat to make progress on your big goals.
• Block out specific blocks of time in the morning to do the deep work, where you achieve your eat the frog task.
• Make a list of all the things that will distract you from deep work. Include emails, social media, meetings, phone calls, and anything else you can think of. Create a plan for you that will keep those things out of your deep work blocks.
Deep work is hard. It takes intention, focus, discipline, and a willingness to give up the easy stuff to achieve what’s meaningful.
But deep work is also so important. If you want to be successful and happy, you can’t constantly play around in the shallows. You’ve got to go deep.
Your Personal Sherlock Holmes