Focused work: How to develop this quite valuable skill for the 21st century?

You know this. You want to start to work or learn but you get distracted every few minutes - Facebook notifications, emails, other news and applications. True concentration is getting harder achieve, the distractions are everywhere, not to mention other external distractions such as working in open space or procrastination. Thus, concentration becomes a rare commodity.

According to statistics, the average person looks at the phone every 12 minutes during the day. This means that on average we stop what we're doing 80 times a day to check our phone.
This is a major issue, especially when trying to concentrate on a problem as it takes a person up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully concentrate again. It is no surprise, that some experts call concentration the most valuable skill of this century.

Deep work

"There are two key skills for success in the new economy: a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and a skill to produce better results in less time,"  wrote Cal Newport  in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, who is also an Associate Professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of several other bestsellers. In this book, he presented the concept of so-called "deep work", which is quite rare today.

He defines deep work as a work activity in a state of undisturbed concentration that forces a person to use their cognitive potential to the maximum. This makes it possible to create new values and improve our abilities but it also difficult to achieve.

On the other hand, there is "shallow work" - a cognitively undemanding task of logistical character that is perfomed without concentration. Unlike deep work, these activities usually do not create new values but are easily achieved.

4 Rules of Deep Work

"The ability to do deep work is becoming more and more rare, while it is increasingly sought for in our economy. As a result, the few people who will be able to master it and then make it the foundation of their working life will be exceptionally successful," Newport pointed out.

The bottom line of deep work is not to work more but smarter. It stems from the idea that only high-quality work = (spent time) x (intensity of concentration) brings the desired results. But how does one do it? Newport described four basic rules of deep work:

  1. Work deeply
  2. Get bored
  3. Leave social media
  4. Get rid of shallowness

Rule 1: Work deeply

In the beginning, you should create clever routines and rituals that will help you in your working life. Newport describes (again) four strategies that helps integrate these routines and rituals put them into practice:

  • The Monastic Philosophy: Isolate yourself from the outside world for some time to avoid any distractions, while shallow work is not allowed.
  • The bimodal philosophy: Use the monastic method for several consecutive days a week - at least one.
  • Rhythmic philosophy: Deep work three or four hours a one day (without a break). You can spend the rest of the time doing shallow work.
  • The journalistic philosophy: Divide your day into different phases of deep and shallow work, depending on your daily schedule. However, this method is the most demanding, so you should not try it at first.

When testing these methods, you will find out which one suits you best. You should create individual space in your calendar dedicated to your deep work - which requires a strong will on a long-term basis.

Rule 2: Get bored

While it may seem that this rule goes against the recommendations of achieving the highest productivity, rest and boredom positively influence our thoughts and concentration. In this regard, Newport lists several reasons:

  • • Inactivity helps gain insight
  • • Inactivity helps gain the energy necessary for deep work
  • • The work that inactivity in the evening replaces is usually not so important

Another important idea is not to take a break from distraction but to take a break from concentration. "Rather than planning a break from distractions from time to time in order to be able to concentrate, you should plan a break from concentration so you can confine yourself to distractions," Newport says.

According to him, the strategy works, even if we have to often use the internet or quickly respond to emails. At the same time, he recommends that you plan time spent on the Internet and never use the Internet outside of this dedicated time - not only at work but also at home. This will allow you to make your concentration training even more intense.

Rule 3: Leave social media

A person does not need to leave social media completely, but we should be aware of the problems that it brings about. "Using a networking tool is justified if you can find some potential benefits of using it or if there is anything you could miss while not using it," says Newport.

Our own brain simply finds many different reasons for not leaving social media. Therefore, it may be worth it to try and stop using social media for 30 days (not necessarily all at once). After these 30 days, you should answer the two following questions:

  • Would the last 30 days be way better, hadn't I use the social media?
  • Did people mind that I did not use social media?

If yes is your answer to both questions, you should stop using social media permanently. If you answered yes, you should go back to social media. If your answers were more ambiguous, it is up to you to decide whether you start using media again - however, Newport suggests that you opt to leave.

Rule 4: Get rid of shallowness

The last important rule is to get rid of shallowness. "You should approach shallow work with distrust because the damage it can do is often underestimated and its importance is greatly overestimated. This type of work is necessary, but you must not let it to undermine your deep activities that ultimately determinate your success," says Newport.

Getting rid of the shallowness will help you take a few more steps - such as planning a minute of the day using "time blocking", as you did with in the case of the Internet or social media. In a single block, you can include work such as replying to e-mails, document printing or booking tickets.

However, you do not have to follow this schedule religiously. Your goal should not be to observe the schedule at all costs but rather to use it to help you progress in your projects further - even if it requires some changes. Based on your own experience, you will find out which particular organization will most suit you and you will be able to plan your work better.

Concentrated life is the best

"Deep life, of course, is not for everyone. It takes hard work and a radical change of your habits. While many enjoy being "busy" exchanging emails or showing off on social media, we must get rid of many of these activities in order to achieve a deep life. Trying to do your best always leads to a bit of anxiety because you have to face the possibility that your best might just not be enough yet," says Newport at the end of the book.

And he adds "but if you are willing to put aside comfort and anxiety and make full use of your mental capacity to create something that makes sense, you will see, like others before you, that deep work leads to a life of full productivity and a sense of fulfilment. In the first part, I quoted the words of the writer Winifred Gallagher: ‘I will live a concentrated life because it is the best it can be.’ I agree."