Deep Work: The Art of Overcoming Distractions at Work

"Deep work" promotes concentration and commitment to a single task. It's the opposite of "multitasking." Learn all about it here!
Deep Work: The Art of Overcoming Distractions at Work
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 31 July, 2022

Deep work is a type of work that seeks to focus and redefine the idea of productivity. It’s an anti-paradigm for what tends to happen in modern times.

Reaching the end of the month and feeling that you haven’t accomplished anything you set out to do or experiencing each workday as a struggle against interruptions are reminders that we’re losing our sense of what’s really important.

What is “deep work”?

The concept of deep work is an idea developed by Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University. It refers to the possibility of connecting and concentrating in a conscious and focused way and connecting deeply with the work or activity that we’re doing. This is something that often seems like a major feat nowadays!

After all, we’re exposed to stimuli and interruptions everywhere nowadays, especially with the home office types of work.

Deep work comes to raise our need to focus and concetrate on a particular task. Defining priorities is a starting point for this type of work.

One important preliminary guideline has to do with accepting the limited amount of time. That is to say, we can’t expect to work deeply more than a certain number of hours. Therefore, we need to establish what we really can take care of today.

Newport points out that deep work allows us to better develop our capabilities and obtain quality results. It also allows us to gain a deeper understanding of a situation and find innovative and creative solutions. It’s a matter of stopping to function with thousands of tabs and windows open, a practice that encourages burnout.

Burnout from not doing deepwork
Being overly busy is unhealthy and can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression.

The main characteristics of deep work

Now, some of the qualities of deep work are the following:

  • Establish periods of time to dedicate to focused work.
  • Train yourself. Newport is not naïve in believing that this is something you get just by wanting to do it. Deep work requires will and persistence.
  • It eliminates the superficial.
  • Deep work redefines what we mean by productivity. Having an array of ongoing projects, checking the news, answering the phone, and thinking about the grocery list all at the same time is not productive. It’s simply being busy.
  • Be guided by purpose. A sense of purpose recovers the meaning and the why of what we do, rather than “doing for the sake of doing,” which is compulsive.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: The Main Psychological Effects of Multitasking and How to Avoid Them

Keys to achieving deep work

The fact that we often don’t know how to disconnect from so many issues is not a minor issue. There’s no need for months-long retreats or sabbaticals. After all, these tend only to be temporary solutions.

What we need to do is to change the way we conceive our day-to-day life by orienting our cognitive efforts in one single direction. Some of the recommendations to avoid distractions are the following.

1. Pay attention to your internal states

We can’t expect to have a productive day if we didn’t sleep well the night before or if we went several hours without eating. Sometimes, distractions are also related to the way we feel.

2. Organize your work into subtasks

One of the ways to avoid getting distracted is to organize your activities into smaller units. In this way, each one has a determined beginning and end, with rest intervals.

By doing this, you also avoid falling into a sense of frustration. Your self-esteem and well-being are reinforced by experiencing an accomplishment.

3. Try to work in a distraction-free environment

That is, try to organize and clear your desk of unnecessary elements. Avoid visual and noise pollution. In this way, you eliminate sources of distraction.

4. Set schedules and establish a routine

Try to create habits by respecting your schedules and behaviors. When we do this, we help the body and mind to adapt.

For example, if you prepare your breakfast at 8:30 a.m.every day, you can then take a moment of rest, and start working at 9 o’clock. Your brain will progressively understand that this is what it should do, and it will become easier and easier.

5. Say “no” to social networks

While you are trying to concentrate, it’s recommended that you put notifications on silent and keep social networks away from your hand. Most of the content circulating there is designed to be addictive.

Algorithms keep us jumping from one interest to another. This is why we find it so hard to stop.

Notifications on phones and computers are also very distracting and can prevent deep work. Muting mobile notifications is a good practice to focus and concentrate on what we’re doing.

6. Establish rules and simplify your activities

Think synthetically. Could this meeting have been just an email? Find simple methods and strategies to manage time.

Like this article? You may also like to read: The Slow Life: Get to Know this Lifestyle and Learn How to Live it

Remember that not all breaks are the same

Throughout a working day, it’s absolutely necessary to take breaks. This is the only way to give the brain enough rest to replenish its energy.

This is not dead time. It’s a moment in which we generate another type of productivity and that allows us to enrich ourselves with more experiences and sensations to continue with lucidity.

Enjoyment is not a minor issue when we try to perform an activity in a sustained manner. This is because motivation moves us (in fact, its etymology comes from the word “movement!”).

We know that all jobs or tasks have their ups and downs. Some activities please us more than others. Enjoyment and interest in our projects should be the rule rather than the exception. Otherwise, it’s difficult to ask our body and mind to connect with something that doesn’t interest them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Álvarez Gallego, E., & Fernández Ríos, L. (1991). El Síndrome de” Burnout” o el desgaste profesional. Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría.11(39), 257-265.
  • Rodriguez, R., León, G., Molina, A. P., & Tapia, N. (2020). El Deep Work y su incidencia en la productividad de las empresas. 593 Digital Publisher CEIT5(6), 446-458.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.