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Monotasking sounds simple, but it’s a struggle while working remotely with so many digital, physical, and visual distractions. The deep work concept, coined by Cal Newport, encourages people to find a rhythm that allows them to focus on one task for a specific time without distractions or interruptions.

Have you ever thought about the differences between being busy and being productive? Busy work often distracts us from what really needs to be done (think checking emails, attending a meeting that could have been an email, searching for information, etc). Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work Index showed that employees spend 58% of their time (and managers 62%) doing busy work.

While busy work is sometimes unavoidable, we can use the deep work concept to organize our days and help us spend more time in a productive state, possibly allowing us to work fewer hours.

What Is Deep Work?

Deep work, a concept popularized by author Cal Newport, refers to the state of focused and undistracted concentration on cognitively demanding tasks. In this mode, individuals immerse themselves in meaningful, challenging work, free from interruptions or multitasking. 

This concept requires sustained attention and is often characterized by a flow-like mental state where productivity and creativity are maximized. 

To achieve deep work, individuals typically create dedicated time blocks, eliminate distractions, and prioritize tasks that contribute significantly to their goals. Embracing deep work can enhance productivity, improve output quality, and foster a deeper understanding of complex subjects.

Shallow Work

Shallow work, as contrasted with deep work, refers to logistical, administrative, or easily replicable tasks, often requiring minimal cognitive effort. These activities are typically more routine and can be performed while multitasking or distracted. 

Shallow work tends to be less impactful and does not contribute as significantly to one’s long-term goals or deep understanding of complex subjects. 

4 Deep Work Scheduling Philosophies

As everyone’s minds work differently, there are multiple methods you can choose from to get yourself into deep work mode. Cal Newport outlines four scheduling philosophies to incorporate deep work into one’s routine in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. These are:

Monastic PhilosophyThis approach involves dedicating long, uninterrupted periods to work. It often includes retreats or extended isolation to maximize focus.
Bimodal PhilosophyIn this philosophy, individuals divide their time between deep and shallow work, dedicating specific days or blocks of time exclusively to deep work.
Rhythmic PhilosophyThis method involves establishing a regular, daily routine for deep work. It becomes a natural part of the daily rhythm by consistently scheduling deep work at specific times each day.
Journalistic PhilosophyThis flexible approach involves fitting in deep work whenever possible, depending on the availability of time amidst other responsibilities. It requires adaptability to seize opportunities for concentrated work as they arise.

How to Build a Deep Work Routine

Building a remote work routine requires planning and discipline to minimize distractions and foster focused, undisturbed work. 

Set Clear Goals: Define your deep work objectives and prioritize tasks that align with your long-term goals. This clarity helps you allocate focused time to high-impact activities.

Establish a Schedule: Choose a scheduling philosophy (e.g., monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, or journalistic) that suits your work style. Create a daily or weekly schedule that designates specific times for work.

Woman creating a work schedule that blocks time for deep work.

Create a Dedicated Workspace: Designate a quiet, organized workspace for deep work. Minimize potential interruptions and communicate boundaries to household members or colleagues.

Digital Detox: Turn off non-essential notifications and use tools or apps to block distracting websites during work sessions.

Time Blocking: Reserve specific blocks of time exclusively for deep work. Use calendar appointments to signal to yourself and others that these periods are non-negotiable.

Prioritize Tasks: Identify tasks that require deep work and prioritize them. Tackle the most challenging or impactful tasks during peak energy and focus hours.

Batch Shallow Work: Group routine and less-cognitively demanding tasks into specific time blocks. This prevents constant task-switching and preserves deep work periods.

Communication Strategies: Set expectations with colleagues regarding your work schedule. Communicate your availability for meetings and collaboration, ensuring alignment with your work routine. Consider setting your status as “Do Not Disturb” on communication platforms.

Use a physical or virtual do not disturb sign to avoid being interrupted during deep work sessions.

Regular Breaks: Incorporate short breaks between work sessions to maintain energy and prevent burnout. Use these breaks for physical activity or brief relaxation.

Reflect and Adjust: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your work routine. Adjust your schedule or strategies based on feedback and evolving priorities.

Consistency is critical when building a deep work routine. By implementing these strategies and adapting them to your specific needs, you can cultivate a work environment conducive to sustained focus and productivity as a remote worker.

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Determined to simultaneously work and travel, Sami has been working remotely since 2015. She has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of this world but wouldn't change her experiences for anything. She's thrilled to see companies offering more remote and hybrid roles and supports anyone who chooses to make the change.

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