Deep work and creativity – how your best ideas will come when you give them space
Working from home and adapting to tech is a moving target. Tools like Slack and Zoom have benefits, but can also be distracting for teams, involving too many people in meetings. Just like life offline. Could ‘deep work’ be the answer?
Deep work describes those rare moments where you’re utterly able to immerse yourself in a project. Dallas PR agency Idea Grove came up with some great ideas about deep work in a recent FastCo article, working with a definition of the term that was popularised by the author Cal Newport. He says deep work is:
“Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”
The principles of deep work
Deep work is:
- Undistracted work on a task that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit.
The best ideas and the most meaningful progress come from deep work, not shallow work. What’s shallow work? That’s things like answering emails, producing reports, and flitting from meeting to meeting.
Deep work creates breakthrough business ideas, exposes new research questions, and solves complex problems.
When did you last schedule ‘distraction-free’ time? (Forgive me, as a working mum I do understand this might sound like nirvana, particularly this January, but bear with me). Deep work and creativity can go hand in hand.
How concentration benefits creative thinking
- The ability to concentrate must be trained like a muscle. You can’t use it if you haven’t trained it. But if you train it in a structured way and push yourself to your limit, it will get stronger.
- Every time you get distracted and indulge the distraction, you weaken your ability to focus and to resist distractions.
“If you check your phone every time you get bored, you reinforce your brain’s rewiring to be addicted to distraction.”
The team at Idea Grove realised that their team broadly fell into two groups: ‘Makers’ – who think, create and do and need uninterrupted time to do their jobs. The PR and marketing teams were makers.
‘Managers’, meanwhile, manage projects, processes, and clients, they need to interact with people to do their jobs. Their account team are managers – and so they allocated hours in the day to different tasks.
The 3 key take-outs for me:
- Separate your own time, or team time, out into ‘maker’ and ‘manager’ hours to allow for creative focus and concentration.
- Set expectations around how you will communicate and using which tools – and honour them, without exception.
- Recognise differences in the way we think and work and allow your team autonomy over how they work.
The concept of deep work was popularized by productivity expert Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” and refers to the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks. It involves immersing yourself in a state of flow, where you can produce high-quality work and achieve meaningful results. Deep work is contrasted with shallow work, which consists of more logistical, administrative, or superficial tasks that don’t require intense concentration.
Here are some key tips related to deep work:
1. Importance of Deep Work: Deep work is crucial for professional success and personal fulfillment. By dedicating uninterrupted time to focus deeply on important tasks, you can produce better results, learn more effectively, and make progress towards your long-term goals.
2. Minimize Distractions: Deep work requires minimizing distractions, both internal and external. Turn off notifications, find a quiet environment, and establish boundaries to protect your focus. Consider using productivity tools or apps that block distractions and help you stay on track.
3. Time Blocking: Schedule specific blocks of time dedicated solely to deep work. Establish a routine and make it a habit. This allows you to train your brain to enter a focused state more easily during those dedicated periods.
4. Deep Work Rituals: Develop rituals or routines that signal your brain it’s time for deep work. This can be as simple as starting each session with a specific warm-up activity, such as reviewing your goals or organizing your workspace.
5. Prioritize Important Tasks: Identify the most important and impactful tasks that require deep work and prioritize them. By focusing on high-value activities, you can make the most of your deep work sessions and achieve meaningful progress towards your goals.
6. Set Clear Goals: Clearly define the objectives and outcomes you want to achieve during each deep work session. Having a clear target in mind helps maintain focus and motivates you to stay on track.
7. Take Breaks: Deep work is mentally demanding, so it’s important to schedule breaks to recharge and prevent burnout. Breaks allow your mind to relax, rejuvenate, and return to the deep work session with renewed focus and energy.
8. Cultivate Deep Work Habits: Like any skill, deep work requires practice and cultivation. Start with shorter deep work sessions and gradually increase the duration as you build your ability to concentrate for longer periods.
9. Experiment and Iterate: Explore different techniques and strategies to find what works best for you. Experiment with different environments, productivity tools, and rituals to optimize your deep work experience.
10. Balance Deep Work and Shallow Work: While deep work is important, it’s also crucial to balance it with shallow work to handle necessary administrative tasks. Find a balance that allows you to allocate enough time for deep work while still addressing essential responsibilities.