The Easy Guide to Getting Started With Deep Work

Are you intimidated by the idea of deep work? Here is an easy guide to get started today. Understand when you need deep work, create a schedule, and a routine for it.

One of the best things to come out of the seminal book, Deep Work - Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal NewPort is the wide recognition of the benefits of deep work. I knew it had made it when I heard it in the boardroom of a consulting client recently. Deep work has always been the default preferred mode of working for developers. Newport's book gave us a vocabulary to protect our maker time.

There is a side effect of a productivity system becoming a cult hit. Earlier, I could say that I want to work uninterrupted for a few hours as a routine, lock myself in a room, and just do it. Now, I would research the types of deep work schedules and the most optimal environment for my work desk first. More reasons for the procrastinator in me to delay getting started.

Not anymore. Here is my attempt to help anyone start practicing deep work today.

Step 1: Understand whether what you are doing needs deep work

Cal Newport makes a clear distinction between shallow work and deep work in this book.

Use this simple worksheet to figure it out for yourself. If your graph trends towards the right, then, "Voila! Congrats!", you are eligible to do deep work :)

Step 2: Decide your deep work schedule

There are 4 kinds of deep work schedules defined in the book.

  • Monastic Schedule: Reject all shallow work and only focus on deep work. All day, every day. Highly recommended for those with an EA and a chief-of-staff, atleast.
  • Bi-Modal Scheule: Practice deep work like seasons. Spring is for deep work, winter is for shallow work. A more realistic bi-modal schedule could be to divide your week into deep-work and shallow-work days.
  • Rhythmic Schedule: Divide your day into chunks of deep work and shallow work. The most practical schedule for most knowledge workers. Choose this schedule if you are getting started.
  • Journalistic Schedule: Practice deep work whenever you can. Sounds about right for most managers.

Step 3: Create your deep work routine

This is my favorite part. Be intentional with your deep work. I do it for every session but if your work allows, you can do this as a standing commitment.

  • Define what is success for the session. Decide which ugly frog will you eat and that you won't stop until you have chewed every bone.
  • Create a conducive working environment. A quiet room (if you have access to it) or a nice pair of headphones should suffice for most of us.
  • Define how long will be your deep-work session. This is important to keep you going in a single stretch. You are allowed to take small breaks.
  • Lay some ground rules for yourself. Our minds are evil -- we give it an inch and it grabs the whole mile. Kill notifications, no peeking on emails and messages are the most common ones.
  • Take care of yourself while you do deep work. Get some water, your favorite snacks, some nice music. Maybe ask your daugther to give you a hug after your session is over (I do this).

That is all you need to get started. Good luck!

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