Deep Work Training

tips-to-improve-concentration

Deep work is the ability to work with intense concentration for extended periods of time in a single task, free from distractions. 

Defined by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, it is necessary for anyone who wants to produce at peak level. Do not putting deep work in our efforts will only make us produce mediocre results.

I remember when I started blogging some years ago. At that time, content was the king. The same is now. Good content. The problem is how to generate such good content. Generating a good content requires a lot of time and effort. It is not like going around internet, catching some sentences from other blogs and pasting them into your blog. Good content requires a lot of focus, concentration and thinking. It requires deep work.

Unfortunately, deep work is becoming very rare, due to several reasons (one of them being hyper connected). Very few people dedicate focused time to their most important works. Fortunately, deep work is a skill that can be trained, and here is where I get into the picture 😉

In this post, we are going to see how to start training our deep work skills in order to be able to produce higher quality works (either they are blog posts, scientific articles or musical compositions). However, be aware that what I propose here is a starting point to deep work. More profound training is required to reach real levels of deep work. Those trainings will be provided in future posts.

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The Technique

If you have been a long time without doing deep work in your life, then you cannot go and start doing it for 4 hours in a row. Your brain just isn’t prepared for that. It is like if you want to go to the gym and try to lift 100kg without having done weight lifting previously. You just simple can’t. Hence, in the same way as with the gym, you need to start slowly and progressively condition your brain to lift heavier weights.

This post training is made for this: to progressive increase your capacity to do deep work. And the main technique that we are going to use is the pomodoro.

The pomodoro technique for deep work

In order to progressively train your brain to deeper levels of deepness, you are going to apply the pomodoro technique. This technique was meant to let people focus in a task for a certain amount of time (25 minutes) and then having a break for 5 minutes. That is, you first concentrate uninterruptedly in a task for 25 minutes without distractions, without mobile, without Facebook, without music, without going to the toiler, without going for a coffee… you get the idea. You only do the task at hands for those 25 minutes. Then, after the 25 minutes have passed, you can stop and relax for 5 minutes doing whatever you want: checking email, Facebook, toilet, music… you got it… Finally, you repeat the cycle for as many times as the task needs for completion.

We are going to use the pomodoro technique to become a deep worker, but we are not going to do 25 minutes per session. The amount of time to use will depend on the day of the training. We are going to start with 15 minutes work and 5 minutes break, and we will increase those times as we progress in the training (two minutes each day of training, see below).

How to do the training

Step 1:

Before starting you training check all the following:

  • You are in a place where you cannot be interrupted by other people. Make other people know that you don’t want to be disturbed for the next hour.
  • You switch off your desk phone, mobile, pager, whatever device that can interrupt you.
  • You stop all kind of notifications on your computer.
  • You close all your tabs for Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and any other social network.
  • Get out of Slack or other communication tools.
  • Switch off any music or background noise you may have!!! No music at all allowed for real deep work!

No distractions of any kind are allowed during the work phase! This is the most important point of the whole training.

Step 2:

Decide what work you are going to do during the deep work time. It has to be a work that requires deep work to be completed: writing a report or article, reading a book, doing research experiments, design a logo, anything that requires to put your brain for a long time on the task without having to interact with other people.

You must have clear in your mind what the expected result of that work must be.

Step 3:

Start the pomodoro timer and start doing the work. Do not stop doing the work until the alarm sounds and indicates that is time to rest.

It is very usual that you get distracted and think about doing this and that, need to go to pee, or it is very important to call this person to clarify this and this for your work. These are all tricks of your mind trying to sabotage your deep work. Do not pay attention to them. If you realize that you have any of those thoughts, just ignore them and get back to work.

I’ll repeat: it is very normal that your mind brings to mind many things to disrupt your deep work. This is normal. Your training consists of forgetting about them and put your mind back again to the work.

If you fail and get caught by one of those thoughts and impulsively act on it (like for example, you start to search for information about something on the internet), do not feel guilty. Again, I repeat for a third time: this is normal. Once you realize that you have been tricked, stop it and get back to work. Yes, stop like this when you realize the trick. That is what this training is about!

When the alarm sounds, you can now relax for a few minutes. Start again the pomodoro with the resting time and use this relaxing time for whatever you want. For the ones that want to go pro: do not use this time for internet, whatssup, or any social network. Use it for having a coffee, go to the toilet, listen to music or just watch through the window. This is very important if you want to be a pro deep worker (but I’m not going to explain this here… just look for attention residue).

Proper setup for your training

In order to do your training you need a clock to control your pomodoro time. You can do that control using the clock of your cell phone, but that is usually a lot more complex to handle. I have found that when one is training for the brain, the more complex the setup, the less chances to succeed with the training. That is why I propose you the following simpler setup.

Install a plugin in your Chrome web browser. The plugin is called Strick Workflow.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 11.44.30

Once the plugin is installed, a small red tomato will appear in the right hand side of your borwser.

Strict-Workflow1

 

With the plugin installed go to the Extensions section of Chrome and look for the Strick Worflow extension. Click on it to configure. You will get something like the image below. As you can see, there is a part where you can specify the amount of work time and the amount of break time. Set them initially to 15 and 5 respectively.

strict-workflow

Now, every time you are going to start your deep work phase (as will be indicated in the training below), you will have to press the red tomato on your browser right corner. This will make start a timer for your work phase, where you should focus completely in doing your work. After the time has passed, an alarm will appear in your screen indicating the timeout. Now the tomato has changed to green. If you press again the green tomato, the timer for break time will start and rise and alarm when the break time is finished. At that time you should start again with your deep work session and the whole cycle repeats again.

You may be thinking that it may not be necessary to use this plugin, and decide to use something else. Using this plugin for our setup has several advantages:

  • It is very easy to start and stop. Just one click and you are in. Please, believe me, this is crucial for your success because as the setup becomes more complex, people, we tend to give away easier.
  • It allows to change the amount of time used for the pomodoro focused time, as well as the resting time.
  • It blocks your access to sources of distraction. As you will feel when training, there will be times when you will have the temptation of watching Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or else. The Chrome plugin I’m proposing you blocks your access to those websites by default when you are in work phase. So even if you succumb to your temptation, the system will hold accountability for you.

If still you don’t like the setup proposed, then you can download an app for your cell phone. Many option exists on the different app stores.

The Training

What follows is the routine you have to do for the next two months. After the two months, your brain will be conditioned for deep work, and you will be able to experiment with more complex trainings.

The good part of this training is that you can use the training at the same time that you are doing your actual work. This means that you do not have to set special time aside from your work to do the training.

Start the training on Monday. It is very important that you do the training every week day (from Monday to Friday). You need to be consistent with the training.

First and second week training

  • Set your pomodoro to 15-5 minutes
  • Do a pomodoro session (as indicated in the Technique section)
  • Repeat 4 times
  • The next day, increase the working time by two minutes (only the working time)

Third and fourth week training

  • Set your pomodoro to 35-8 minutes
  • Do a pomodoro session (as indicated in the Technique section)
  • Repeat 3 times
  • The next day, increase the working time by two minutes (only the working time)

Fifth and sixth week training

  • Set your pomodoro to 55-10 minutes
  • Do a pomodoro session (as indicated in the Technique section)
  • Repeat 3 times
  • The next day, increase the working time by two minutes (only the working time)

Seventh and Eighth week training

  • Set your pomodoro to 75-15 minutes
  • Do a pomodoro session (as indicated in the Technique section)
  • Repeat 2 or 3 times (depends on the schedule of your work. Aim for 3 times)
  • The next day, increase the working time by two minutes (only the working time)

Final recommendations

  • You must aim to do all the sessions for the day in a row. This means, that in order to get the most of the training, it is better if you schedule all the pomodoro sessions for a day one after another. I understand that, due to our job requirements, sometimes this can simply not be done. That is up to you. I can just say that you try your best.
  • Do the deep work sessions in the morning whenever possible. Deep work requires us to be at full, and this happens in the morning after having had a night of rest (check for ego depletion).

Conclusion

Deep work is a skill that very few people posses. Those who have it, have a huge advantage over the rest in the creative arena. We must master this skill and make ourselves better. A real deep work training goes first by making the mind able to do deep work, and then, changing our habits that prevent us from doing deep work. This post deals with the former. In following posts, we will deal with how to train the habits.

2 Responses to Deep Work Training

  1. Patryk 20/03/2017 at 9:34 #

    Been looking for something to challenge myself. I recently noticed I started slacking at work, with waaaaaay too many distractions. Got to a point where I had youtube running in the background with a random video I don’t care at all, but I found myself to glance at it every couple of minutes taking unnecessary breaks. Nothing but my fault really. This seems like a nice PRODUCTIVE challenge. Thanks!

    • Rick T. 21/03/2017 at 23:45 #

      I understand your situation with working with distractions. I happens to all of us, but we cannot let those distractive behaviors ransom our lives. We need to get back to our concentrated behaviors in order to be productive, and in order to have a life back. Otherwise, we don’t even work, we don’t even enjoy the time and then we get back home late completely unsatisfied and without having finished the work.

      Let’s bring concentration back! Now, let’s work when we have to work (fully engaged), and let’s have fun when it is the proper moment.

      Let me know if you improve with the training as I have.

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