Bill Gates swears by it. Elon Musk organises teams around it. Author Cal Newport has written a book on it. Yet, it’s one of the least well-known productivity tips around. What is it? Deep Work.
Georgetown professor and author Cal Newport says “deep work” is the reason Bill Gates enjoyed such a remarkable rise to success.
Newport has pointed out that “in the age of constant internet connectivity — perpetual distractions threaten to limit our potential and minimize the impact of our work.”
Learning how to focus on a task single-mindedly therefore becomes a key success factor.
Learning from the Microsoft founder’s experiences, Newport defines deep work as the “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit, create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to duplicate.”
While Gates, a Harvard math student called Monte Davidoff, and fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen spent two weeks in the school’s Aiken lab – with Gates characterised as being particularly relentless – forgoing studying for exams to build software, Newport recommends setting aside several stretches of an hour or two each week when you work with urgency and without distraction.
How to work deeply
Don’t allow any distractions to intrude on the hours you set aside for deep work, says Newport.
Schedule the time you set aside for deep work for the period in the day when you are at your most productive.
Ideally, switch off your phone and move away from your PC so you can give 100% focus to your task.
Let all your colleagues know that you shouldn’t be disturbed during the time allocated to deep work. If necessary, place a note on your desk and in your calendar to ensure your colleagues respect this quiet time.
You may even find it easier to sit on a quiet room where you can work without interruption. A change of scenery can help to remove potential distractions too.
Follow these simple steps and your deep work time should be highly productive.
While deep focus can help you boost your productivity, you need to manage this deep work time to ensure you don’t allow yourself to become too goal obsessed. It’s important not to let your goal of deep working disrupt your work-life balance.
Gates’ fellow mega-successful tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is another big fan of deep working. He pulls together teams of highly creative and expert people who work intensively on solving particular problems.
His ability to intensely focus on a task doesn’t come without its critics. Musk’s ex-wife, Justine, has said, “extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things”.
She continued: “Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.”
And her list of the ingredients for extreme success? “Be obsessed. Be obsessed. Be obsessed.”
Deep work is just one of the success strategies the world’s most successful billionaires share. Discover the others here.