I’ve always been interested in personal productivity, habits building, and how to foster spaces that allow me to think and work free from distractions.
Using Cal Newport’s definition, I’ve been interested in finding and developing strategies that allow me to do “Deep Work” which he defines as:
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 skill and are hard to replicate.
Our private, social, and work lives are full of distractions. Anyone can hijack our attention easily. At work, the growth of Slack and the culture of constant connectivity is making it difficult for people to focus on a task without getting interrupted.
What can we do about this, and how can we find spaces for Deep Work? If you read Cal’s book, he includes some answers to this question. I want to write here about specific hacks I’ve been doing that have helped me find space to do Deep Work.
Hack #1: Turn-on Do not disturb
I try to keep my phone and computer on “Do not disturb” mode. It keeps all the notifications away.
Hack #2: Turn off the Internet on the phone
This hack protects me from myself, I’ve noticed that sometimes I grab my phone automatically without any specific goal, turning off the internet keeps me away from completing any other action. The interesting thing here is that before turning on the internet, I reconsider what I am about to do, leading to just putting my phone down.
Hack #3: Signout from social networks and make it difficult to get in
I quit Facebook a couple of years ago, but I still keep a Twitter account. Now my strategy for protecting myself from Twitter is:
- Always signout after using it.
- Turn-on two-factor auth.
If possible, I use a yubico security key for social media, which I keep away from me. If I want to open Twitter, it forces me to think if I want to stand up and grab my key.
Hack #4: Signout from email
My work doesn’t require me to be on top of email, and I can decide how to react to my personal email. That’s why I try to keep my email logged out as well. If I go to my inbox, then I won’t see anything because it will ask me to log in.
Hack #5: Use multiple profiles in the browser
Modern browsers have a cool feature called profiles. I have a personal profile, a work profile, and a dev profile. Profiles, combined with hack #3, allow me to stay logged out from distracting websites or websites that I frequently visit on idle time.
Hack #6: Use freedom.to or rescuetime
I used both tools for several years. Sometimes it can be kind of depressing to see how you spend your time, but the more you use this kind of tool and the more intentional you are about your relationship with the internet, the better it gets. Both apps have even more extreme features like actually blocking a website.
Hack #7: No coworking spaces
This one is more personal, but I find it very difficult to concentrate when working on an open space floor or with people having calls next to me all the time. I recently moved back to a home office, and it’s fantastic.
Hack #8: Develop rituals
I have a set of rituals that I follow every day; they help me get into the mode and prepare for focusing on my work or whatever I’m trying to do. For example, I tend to block a full hour after breakfast for reading.
Finding space for deep work is getting more challenging, however, it’s not a lost battle, and there are multiple things that we can do to help our mind push its cognitive capabilities. The hacks above work well for me, but they are not written in stone; I’m always experimenting and adjusting as I see fit.
If you are curious about other methods and learning more about deep work, I’d recommend reading Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work. Finally, I’d also love to learn from you and the different strategies you have used to achieve the same.