Outlook Calendar for Reclaim is almost here! Join the waitlist
20% off with code MEETINGS
< Productivity Glossary
Deep Work

What is deep work?

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task for an extended period of time. By entering this state of intense concentration, you can produce higher-quality work in a shorter amount of time. 

The term deep work was originally coined by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. This concept emphasizes the need to immerse oneself fully in undistracted and uninterrupted work periods to accomplish complex tasks more efficiently.

Examples of deep work:

  • Strategic planning
  • Troubleshooting a complex issue
  • Developing a new wireframe
  • Building a launch plan for a new feature
  • Writing a presentation for a new sales opportunity

In comparison, shallow work refers to relatively easy tasks, often routine or logistical (such as catching up on email and chat messages), requiring minimal cognitive effort.

The key characteristics of deep work

Deep work is defined by several key characteristics that distinguish it from shallow work: 

1. Cognitive thinking

Deep work requires significant mental effort and often pushes your intellectual abilities to their limits. This could involve tackling complex problems, generating creative ideas, or learning new, challenging skills.

2. Flow state

Deep work often leads to a state of flow, where you experience complete absorption and total engagement with the task at hand. Time seems to slip away, and you lose awareness of external distractions.

3. No distractions

To achieve a productive state of deep work, this requires you to eliminate distractions that can break your focus, including silencing notifications, putting away your phone, and finding a quiet work space.

4. High levels of productivity

If deep work is done right, it allows you to accomplish more in less time due to increased concentration and reduced context switching. You can achieve meaningful progress on important projects without the constant distractions that hinder productivity. 

5. Value creation

Deep work is typically associated with tasks that contribute significantly to your professional or personal goals. It's about producing high-quality output that has lasting value and leads to meaningful growth and development.

6. Intentionality

Deep work requires deliberate practice and planning. Be intentional about scheduling time for it, creating a conducive environment, and training your mind to resist distractions.

7. Rarity

In our constantly connected world, true deep work is a rare commodity. It takes effort and discipline to carve out dedicated time and protect your focus, making it a valuable and sought-after skill.

8. Personalization

The ideal approach to deep work can vary from person to person. Some individuals thrive in complete silence, while others prefer calming background noises. Experiment and discover what works best to maximize your focus and productivity.

What are the benefits of deep work?

Deep work offers a range of benefits that can enhance your personal and professional life. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Deeper focus: By eliminating distractions and immersing yourself in a task, you can achieve a state of flow, where you work more efficiently and produce higher-quality results in less time.
  • Improved learning & skill acquisition: Deep work allows you to fully absorb and process information, leading to better understanding and faster skill development.
  • More meaningful work: Deep work enables you to tackle complex and challenging problems requiring sustained concentration, leading to a greater sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
  • Reduced stress & anxiety: Deep work, especially when completed on a habitual basis, can contribute a sense of calm and control over your work, reducing stress and anxiety associated with constant context switching.
  • Increased satisfaction & engagement: Accomplishing meaningful work through deep focus leads to a greater sense of satisfaction and engagement in your job.
  • Time management: By scheduling dedicated deep work sessions, you can manage your time more effectively and avoid feeling overwhelmed by tasks.

Best practices deep work

Integrating deep work into your daily routine can be challenging, but the rewards in terms of focus, productivity, and quality of work are immense. Here are some best practices to help you get started:

  1. Embrace boredom: This is a tip straight from Cal Newport's book — don't feel pressured to fill every moment with stimulation. Allow yourself some quiet time to think and process information.
  2. Silence your notifications: Turn off email notifications, silence your phone, and close unnecessary browser tabs. Consider using apps or website blockers to further minimize distractions.
  3. Find a quiet space: Work in a location free from noise and interruptions. If possible, let colleagues know you're unavailable during your deep work sessions.
  4. Embrace single-tasking: Resist the urge to multitask. Focus on one task at a time and give it your full attention.
  5. Time blocking: Dedicate specific blocks of time in your day for deep work. Start with manageable chunks, like 90 minutes, and gradually increase as you get comfortable. Treat these blocks as sacred and avoid distractions during them.
  6. Batching similar tasks into separate shallow work sessions: Group similar tasks together, like responding to emails or making calls, and schedule them outside your deep work blocks. This minimizes context switching and helps you stay focused during deep work sessions.
  7. Set clear goals: Before each deep work session, clearly define what you want to achieve. This will help you stay focused and motivated.
  8. Practice regular breaks: Balancing deep work with rest intervals enhances productivity and prevents burnout, allowing the mind to recharge.

Ready for an AI calendar?

Auto-schedule your tasks, habits, breaks, & meetings on Google Calendar.

Start scheduling →

It's free! 🎉