What is Deep Work and How Can You Help Your Employees Do It?


Working without distractions can produce amazing results. Less distractions in the workplace have been shown to increase productivity - when your attention is on one single task, it’s a lot easier to get things done than if you’re being pulled in multiple directions. This common-sense idea has been given a new name: Deep Work. 

Deep Work is how employees can increase productivity and improve quality by becoming deeply immersed in their work, usually by zoning into a task without any outside distractions. The idea was put forward by Cal Newport, who suggests that Deep Work has the potential to help us achieve incredible results.

If you think Deep Work sounds difficult in an age where we never stop moving, that’s because it is. Most modern workplaces are far from ideal for employees to be able to achieve a state of Deep Work. If your team members aren’t faced with a barrage of emails or pings, they’re simultaneously working on several tasks or projects at any given time. This can make it extremely difficult to give any single task your full attention, meaning that employees are never quite reaching their full potential in terms of productivity and work quality. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Your workplace doesn’t have to settle for a constantly distracted workforce. Minimizing distractions and promoting a Deep Work mindset can boost productivity and overall quality of work, propelling your business to new heights.

What is Deep Work?

Deep Work is the idea that people can work more productively and produce higher quality work when they’re able to concentrate on tasks with no distractions. Theoretically, an employee in a state of Deep Work will be able to reach their full cognitive abilities when not faced with a constant barrage of distractions. There are four primary types of Deep Work styles which you may want to consider adopting:

Monastic: Your work time is largely dedicated to deep working with little to no time for shallow work. Note that this type is almost impossible to implement in the modern workplace. 

Bimodal: Tasks which require Deep Work are broken up into specific periods of time to better fit your schedule, usually based on the requirements of the work at hand. This style doesn’t require constant deep working, but instead schedules it for select tasks or projects - some days will be dedicated to deep working, while others may be focused more on shallow work.

Rhythmic: Using only a few hours a day for deep working, and the rest for other styles, allowing you to easily switch between deep and shallow working. This helps you turn deep working into a daily habit that you need to stick to in order to harness its benefits.

Journalistic: You fit deep working into your schedule whenever possible. This style works best for anybody with an unpredictable schedule, though this can make it much more difficult to turn deep working into a habit.

Cal Newport, who pitched the idea of Deep Work, suggests that a greater concentration on deep working can improve many aspects of our lives and eventually lead to a much less significant focus on shallow work. The concept of shallow work refers to any low-value work (things like emails and social media) that is easy to replicate but takes up a great deal of our time. Ideally, any Deep Work strategy will focus on reducing distractions, and promoting focused work, and minimizing shallow work.

What are the benefits of Deep Work?

A great deal of potential productivity is lost when workers are constantly faced with distractions or feeling overstimulated. Even seemingly insignificant distractions decrease productivity, making it more difficult to stay on task and see things through to the end in one single setting. Distractions also reduce the quality of work, as they constantly demand your attention and take it away from the task at hand.

Every time you start and stop something to take care of a less important task, you have to effectively reset your brain and attempt to get into the same frame of mind you were in prior to the distraction. This takes some time to do, and so many ideas and smaller threads can be lost in the process. This is exactly why so many workplaces are looking to reduce instances of context switching in the workplace.

Deep Work aims to help people reach their full potential by eliminating distractions, focusing one hundred percent of your attention on important tasks and projects, and converting shallow work into Deep Work wherever possible. In short, the concept allows workers to focus more on their own productivity, and the value of the work they’re tasked with. Important work should be tackled with a state of deep working, whereas shallow work can be shut out until it’s more convenient to address, typically outside of your chosen Deep Work schedule.

How you can help your employees achieve Deep Work

The first step to helping employees achieve Deep Work is to guide them in choosing a style and schedule that works and that they’ll be able to realistically stick to. This can be based on the needs of each employee, and all team members should be held accountable for keeping up with their selected style.

Once each employee selects a Deep Work style, they’ll be better equipped to make time in their work lives to focus all their attention on the tasks at hand. This means turning off notifications on secondary apps and social media channels and working in an environment that promotes focus. It also means that workplaces should look to integrate essential tools and apps so employees can work in a centralized solution rather than switch back and forth between tools. This means files should be easily accessible from one location, collaboration and communication is made seamless, and processes are streamlined to reduce context switching.

It’s important to be aware of distractions when you’re in a Deep Work mindset. When your attention begins to drift, resist the temptations of the distraction and try to return your attention to the task at hand. The more you do this successfully, the easier it’ll come. It’s also a good idea to work on eliminating bad habits. Checking your inbox, Slack messages or social media channels should only be done outside of your Deep Work time.

Know what your bad habits are, and make a concerted effort to improve on them. These activities may seem relatively harmless, but refreshing your feed every ten minutes or accidentally going down the social media rabbit hole can fragment your attention and very quickly pull you away from your deep working state, derailing your productivity completely.

Encourage your employees to take a different approach to their “shallow work.” Things like responding to emails will still need to be done, but these tasks should be saved for times when you’re not attempting to work deeply. Normally, those tasks don’t create any real value to your employees or your business, don’t engage or challenge them, and only serve to distract and cause stress. Shallow work should be saved for specific periods of the day. This can be first thing in the morning, right before you sign off for the day, or perhaps right after returning from lunch. Ideally, the later in the day, the better. This way, shallow work still gets done, but doesn’t get in the way of your employee’s productivity.

Most of all, hold yourself accountable as a manager so that employees can maintain their Deep Work schedules. If you need something urgently and see that the employee you need has Deep Work time booked in the calendar, do not contact them. Do not rationalize having to interrupt them, consider them to be completely off the grid. This kind of scenario will come up often if you start implementing Deep Work, and it is key to not give into the “just this once” temptation to interrupt employees during their Deep Work time. Employees will have a hard enough time limiting themselves, if you start to interrupt Deep Work they will doubt management’s buy-in to the strategy. 

You can help your employees achieve Deep Work by gaining visibility into how they’re spending their time. Contextualized productivity data offered by Prodoscore lets you finally understand how employees are working, allowing you to see things like how much time they’re spending within workplace apps and tools.

With Prodoscore, you’ll be able to identify when employees are distracted and constantly switching between tools and tasks very easily in the Prodoscore dashboard. This lets you create a strategy to reduce context switching in the workplace so your employees can achieve Deep Work. Prodoscore offers actionable insights that allow you to see when employees are at risk of burning out, when they have too much on their plate, or when they might require additional training or coaching. By gaining visibility into how your employees are working, you’ll be better equipped to increase employee engagement, boost productivity, and help them reach their full potential.

To find out more about how Prodoscore can help your team achieve Deep Work, get in touch with us today.