Personal Growth

You Can Build "Deep Work" Skills to Increase Productivity

In a world full of distractions, maintaining focus is a tall order. You've probably already gotten a new notification on your phone since opening this article. Not your fault. The key to increasing your productivity and actually getting things done without Instagram likes and group texts getting in the way is "deep work." It's a skill that will take some practice but will pay off big time.

The Deep End

The term "deep work" was coined by Cal Newport, an author and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He should know a thing or five about being productive: He earned a Ph.D. from MIT in just a few years, has published five books and many academic papers, and blogs regularly, yet he's married with two kids and rarely works on the weekends. In addition to time blocking his entire workday the night before, Newport relies on his deep work skills to remain an enviously productive dude.

He describes deep work as the following: "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate." Some examples include writing a book, creating music, or solving a difficult problem. In contrast, there is shallow work: "Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create new value in the world and are easy to replicate." Examples include reading emails, filing expenses, and other easily checked items on your to-do list.

Time to Focus

In our distraction-heavy society, Newport argues that the ability to access a state of deep work is becoming both more valuable and rarer. Spending more time in deep work than in shallow work is key to accomplishing more with your time.

Great, so you can do this by just blocking off time to only do the thing you're trying to do, right? Not exactly. According to Newport, the notification-heavy lives we live have trained our brains and reduced our attention spans. "You have to treat your attention with a lot of respect, like a professional athlete might treat their body," Newport tells Entrepreneur. Sharpening your deep work skills can be done with intentional practice focusing and removing distractions. The result, according to Newport? You'll be able to learn difficult things faster and create to the best of your ability.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

To really dive deep into deep work, check out Cal Newport's book "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto February 21, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.