Tips for getting started with deep work

Written on 
December 23, 2019

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Done well, deep work can help you access new levels of productivity, presence and happiness at work. It’s all about immersing yourself in a task and pushing your cognitive performance to its limits. But deep work isn’t something you can expect to be good at straight off the bat – it requires structure, willpower and practice. You’ll need to play around with different approaches and set-ups at the beginning to find out what works best for you. To help you find your groove, here are a few tips and ideas for getting started with deep work.

Deep work requires effort

Deep work involves working on a single cognitively demanding task without breaking focus for a prolonged stretch of time – ideally, for 60-90 minutes at a time. The goal is to gradually increase the duration and frequency of each session. While this reaps dividends in terms of productivity and satisfaction, it’s not exactly easy to do. You can’t just sit down and expect to dive into hour upon hour of focused deep work. As Cal Newport says, “deep work is a skill, like playing the guitar—something that you shouldn’t expect to be good at if you haven’t been practicing.”

Many people new to deep work can be put off by a few bad early experiences – like not achieving as much as they wanted to, or not being able to stay focused for such long periods of time. But everyone has the potential to become a “deep work person”. You just need to learn from each session, create the right environment, and commit to doing it regularly – training and strengthening your deep work skills, as you would a muscle.

How to get started with deep work

At Memory, we’ve been practicing deep work for quite a while now. We’re complete converts to the concept and offer everyone the flexibility they need create their ideal schedule. We’ve even built an AI tool to help us measure our deep work and do more of it! While by no means an exhaustive list, this collection of deep work tips and ideas have really helped us over the years. We hope you find them useful too!

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1. Start small and scale.

Don’t dive too deep, too fast. Start with 60- to 90-minute deep work sessions and, as you get used to them, incrementally push yourself to do longer sessions.

2. Publically schedule deep work in your calendar.

Look through your calendar and identify periods or days for deep work, then publicly schedule them so no one can book you for anything during that period.

3. Time block your sessions.

While you should always have a time limit in mind for each session, time blocking takes it to the next level. Imposing a time limit can intensify your focus, shifting you into a “scarcity mindset” which pressures you to concentrate and produce.

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4. Have a dedicated space for deep work.

Grand gestures help you commit to deep work. Try renting a coworking space, having a dedicated room in your office, or working from home – making a radical change to your environment for deep work can help you lock focus.

5. Keep a clear workspace – digitally, physically and mentally.

Only have the tools and tabs open that you need for deep work. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted on the way by an irrelevant note on your desk or WhatsApp message.

6. Set a goal for each deep work session.

Go into each session knowing what you want to get out of it – ensuring your goal is achievable. Your brain will be more engaged and your session will yield more tangible results.

7. Measure your deep work.

Measuring deep work helps you gauge its effectiveness and understand how to improve. Use an automatic tool to track all your deep work time, so you can work out your deep-to-shallow work ratio. Some smart tools can even analyze your deep work performance for you.

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8. Leave your phone in another room.

Just having your phone nearby can inhibit your ability to concentrate (even if it’s turned off).

11. Have a shutdown ritual

Rituals help your brain fully disengage from work, so you can be present in your downtime. Take about 10-15 minutes at the end of your session to prioritize tasks for the next one, without actually starting on them.

10. Use distraction management tools.

At the start, you’ll find it hard to ignore new tool notifications and email alerts. Protect yourself against distraction with the help of a few anti-distraction tools. Where some auto-toggle “Do Not Disturb” across your devices, others can block the whole internet.

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11. Put more thought into your downtime.

Build more quality, engaging experiences over mindless, automatic ones. Cutting out passive digital interaction helps establish it as a distraction instead of a reward.

12. Remember how awesome it feels to be in your flow.

That intense, full-body kind of concentration to which nothing else quite compares. Savor and remember the deep satisfaction you feel at the close of a session.

Meet Dewo – your smart personal assistant for deep work

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