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What is Deep Work? A simple guide on how it works

Productivity 3 min read

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What is deep work?

Deep work was first introduced by Cal Newport in a blog post back in 2012. He describes “deep work” as spending time on

cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.

Deep work is therefore in stark contrast to “shallow work”, which is spending your time doing tasks that are not cognitively demanding, that don’t require much training and which are easily replicable. Think of answering emails, organizing things, giving feedback to colleagues, attending meetings etc.

Simply put, if you spend your time doing deep work, you are trying to create meaningful and innovative work. If you spend your time doing shallow work, you will likely not produce anything meaningful or new.

Deep work usually requires you to allocate longer stretches of uninterrupted work time, so to be able to really deep dive into a topic and come up with new and creative ideas and solutions.

Why is deep work important?

We live in a time period where everything needs to be fast. There is no time, or rather no patience, to wait and to give things the right time. Workers are required to be fast and to produce results quickly, and the outcome of that work can only end up being superficial and shallow.

But, innovation and great, meaningful work require time, and that is why deep work is a skill that is urgently needed, yet increasingly scarce.

The reality though, is that our days are mostly filled with shallow work. Distractions are everywhere and our to-do lists are filled with tasks that are often not very important, or at least will not lead us to something innovative or groundbreaking.

Deep work is a skill that is urgently needed, yet increasingly scarce.

We need to be intentional about deep work and make time for it so to reduce the time spent on shallow work as much as possible. If you’re not intentional, your to-do list will quickly pile up with shallow work and the day will be over without you having spent any time producing something meaningful.

If you successfully manage to incorporate deep work into your daily schedule, it will allow you to increase the value of your work, produce more valuable work as well as increase your satisfaction with the work you create.

How to do deep work?

In order to implement as much deep work as possible into your weekly routine, there are 5 key steps I suggest to do:

  1. Schedule
    Plan in advance and schedule time for deep work into your calendar. A session should last between 1 and 3 hours.
  2. Retreat
    At the planned time, make sure to be in a place where you can work undisturbed for the whole duration of your deep work session.
  3. Set the goal
    To stay focused and motivated for longer periods of time, it’s important that you have a clear picture of what the overall goal is, what you’re trying to achieve and why it is important.
  4. Stretch your skill
    Define what you want to achieve in this deep work session. It should be challenging and stretch your skill level but not be impossible to do. This step is crucial, as only by stretching your skill level will you improve and be able to generate innovative work.
    Once defined, you can start your deep work session.
  5. Rest
    Doing deep work is mentally challenging, so it is important that you give your mind the proper time to rest. Take a big break after you’ve done a deep work session and don’t seek out activities that are overstimulating such as browsing the internet or social media. Rather seek out calmer activities such as going for a walk, reading a book or socializing with friends and family.


  6. Learn more about productivity and check out our full guide “Productivity 101: The complete guide to productivity and how to increase it“.

Written by Sabine

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