How To Be Productive: Do Deep Work

Lately I have been obsessed about the concept of productivity, I’ve been reading and taking notes about it a lot. I wanted to learn strategies that would help build the habit of being productive. So when I saw that there’s a Free to Focus Productivity Summit being hosted by Micheal Hyatt that’s going on online , I jumped at a chance to join in. It’s a week long event ( Sept 1-8, 2016)  where guests are interviewed on what the best ways to be productive.

I thought I’d take notes, reflect on the things I learned and figure out how I can apply these strategies in my own life.

Here are my notes from the interview with Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work.

How can you be more productive?

  1. Single task 
    We think we are single tasking when we are working on one thing, not having multiple things open, but then we do quick checks – a quick check of our email or our social media then get back to our work. We don’t think it matters, it’s just a few minutes, no big deal. But it does matter, because even a glance takes our attention away from what we are doing and it could take around 10 to 20 minutes for our attention to get back to the task at hand. That seemingly harmless quick check is costing us in attention currency, and it adds up, once we realise we do it a couple of times a day. True single tasking is just doing the work, period. No checking stuff in the middle.


  2. Practice deep work 
    Deep work is defined as the ability to concentrate really intensely on a task. We think we know how to do this well, that there’s nothing to it. But it’s actually difficult, it’s a skill, like playing an instrument or a sport is a skill, that we can improve the more we practice it. Acknowledging that it’s difficult is a big step in moving towards improving it, because we then have to be intentional in our practice. We become aware that it doesn’t happen by itself, so we put more effort into it. We can start small and then build it up as we go along. This way we are mentally training ourselves daily just like an an athlete would physically.


  3. Practice being bored 
    Every time I feel bored, I feel the urge to check my social media or my email. It’s just automatic to me, because I get some new information out of it of every time I do. It’s easy and satisfying and I don’t really have to think about it. But what I now realized that this is my brain addicted to distraction, I don’t ever really feel bored anymore because my brain is trained to seek satisfaction using social media. This is an disturbing realization for me, especially when it was mentioned that this will make it more difficult for me to succeed in deep work. This is because at the slightest hint of boredom, my brain would want to bail and seek easy way out instead of sitting in place and and doing deep work.

    The solution for this is to schedule time for distractions, and then making the default to be being present with whatever is happening. Instead of the other way around. So, if I set the time for checking facebook at 6:00 to 6:30 pm, when I am in line for the checkout counter, if it’s not a scheduled time for distraction, then don’t do anything, just be there with whatever is happening. This will slowly train the mind to get bored again, to not to reach out for distractions automatically.

  4. Be picky with your tools
    There are so many social media sites available, and though it seems like we have to be on all of them to stay current, we really don’t have to. The advice was that, check four or five areas in your life which you think are most important ( personal or professional) then evaluate if investing in the that tool or site would greatly impact those areas. If it doesn’t then just don’t participate in it, your time would be best used somewhere else.


  5. Schedule deep work
    In order to do deep work, we have to block it out in our calendar, like a meeting or a trip to the doctor. Keep it as a commitment and have rituals/routines that eliminate distractions to allow deep work. This way we would not have to rely on willpower, which is a limited resource, but on system that could make it easier on us to do so.

    Scheduling deep work could mean be doing it at the same time of the day, everyday. Or doing a multi-day session where you do it several days a week (like Thursday to Saturday for example) or you can schedule it on days when you don’t have existing obligations. What’s important is protecting that time, and treating it as sacred to you.


  6. Aim for your desired ratio of deep work and shallow work
    Deep work focuses on the important and difficult things that have great impact (working on the project) shallow work on the other hand are the easy to complete tasks that have low impact on your life (checking email ) .We need to do both but we can aim for an ideal ratio for us. Once we have that ratio in mind, we could measure it and adjust our activities around it.


  7. Question why things are done the way they are
    Some workplace culture demands you be available via chat or email constantly, it’s sets up an environment where shallow work is prioritized over deep work. we might assume that it was set up like that intentionally, that it’s the best and most effective way after trying a couple of way of doing things. but that’s not always the case, some just emerge and was not intentional at all. so it helps to question some of the practices that have been in place and then try out new things see how it affects your productivity.


I learned some great insights about productivity with this interview. The book Deep Work is on my to be read pile now, I bet there will be more strategies in there that wasn’t discussed in the interview.

So thank you to Micheal Hyatt and Cal Newport for the great insights on productivity.