How to plan your deep work

Written on 
January 16, 2020

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Structure and planning is the backbone of deep work. A solid plan doesn’t just ensure you protect space for deep focus and set a healthy pace for your work; it encourages you to be intentional about what you want to get from that time. Since deep work is also a skill that needs to be trained, setting a regular plan to commit to it can help you get better at it – and ultimately get more out of it – in the long-run. Thankfully, planning deep work is fairly straight forward – here are the steps and recommended tools to help you get there.

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1. Schedule your flows

While Cal Newport likes to plan his deep work four weeks in advance, at the beginning, you’ll probably just want to organize your deep work sessions one week ahead. Look through your schedule to identify potential times and days for deep work, remembering that setting a routine pattern for deep work can help you commit to it long-term. Think about the times of day you are most productive and focused, and avoid planning flows between big meetings.

Suggested tool

Deep work assistant Dewo can highlight your deep work availability for you, and intelligently rearrange your meetings to create more blocks of uninterrupted focus.

2. Set a clear goal

Deep work sessions should have a clear purpose and goal. Without one, you won’t be able to actually measure whether your efforts are paying off. Our brains are also more engaged when they have specific objectives to work towards, so it has a motivational effect too. Think about what important work you want to prioritize and what you want to achieve by the end of your session.

Suggested tool

While a simple notepad arguably does the trick, tools like Asana provide a clean digital space for breaking large objectives into the manageable tasks suitable for deep work sessions.

3. Add time limits

Every deep work session should have a time limit. These help you stay focused by shifting you into a “scarcity mindset”, and protect you from burning out. It’s essentially a form of productive time blocking. As you do more deep work, you could even experiment with time blocking certain outcomes within it – setting yourself finite portions of time to achieve certain ends.

Suggested tool

Publicly schedule your deep work sessions using your work’s chosen calendar application, so no one can book you for anything during that period.

4. Start small and scale

As a skill that needs to be developed, you can’t hope to just jump straight into four solid hours of deep work. Newport suggests starting with 60-90 minute sessions and gradually scaling them up when you experience consistent success. You can then batch relevant tasks together for meatier blocks of deep work.

Suggested tool

Automatic time tracker Timely helps you set more realistic deep work sessions, by showing how long different tasks take you and how you perform against your deep work plans.

Remember: be kind to yourself! Planning is part of the deep work learning process – you will need to tweak and refine your schedule as you go. Don’t be put off by an early bad experience; making regular space for deep work and gradually pushing yourself to do more will pay dividends in the long-run.

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