Deep work, in short, is deliberate, focused, uninterrupted, “cognitively demanding” work.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport describes that this skill is not only critical to realizing your dream work situation (because it is the only way for you to become so good you can’t be ignored), but also becoming more and more valuable in today’s attention-grabbing, distraction-filled society.
Think about the last time you actually focused hard and intently on something for 1–2 hours without checking your phone, swiping on a notification, or zoning out to people watch.
When was the last time you saw ANYONE do this?
When you aren’t giving what you’re doing 100% of your attention and focus, then your output will never be good enough for you to become great at that thing.
If you look at anyone who is the best at what they do, whether it’s a world class businessman, programmer, musician, or athlete, the path that they took to get there was filled with deep work and focus.
The difference between them and everyone else isn’t just that they put in thousands of hours of work. It’s that they put in thousands of hours of deep work.
So in reality, if you are trying to develop a skill to the best of your ability, but only putting in shallow work, you are effectively wasting your time.
Deep work leverages your time.
This is why doing deep work is the primary skill you should develop and practice for 1–2 hours a day.
We all put thousands of hours into things without improving.
Take driving, for example.
Most of the time we’re driving, we’re distracted and not actively trying to improve our skill.
In contrast, the world’s best NASCAR drivers know every inch of their car, every tiny detail about how it works, how every subtle movement they make impacts the car, how weather conditions change the road, etc. I don’t know anything about NASCAR, but I know this is true.
Golf is another example.
I’ve played hundreds of rounds of golf and put in thousands of hours, but I’m not much better than I was 20 years ago when I started playing.
Because I wasn’t focused on improving my game.
I didn’t work with a coach, analyze my swing, and spend those thousands of hours on the range. I spent most of them on the course hacking around and having a laugh with my friends.
Tiger Woods didn’t become the best in the world by hacking around and having a laugh with his friends. He spent focused hours on the range working with coaches.
Over time, I’ve learned that for the things I truly want to be great at, I must repurpose my work into deeper work and my time into more focused time.
And this is what you need to do too.
Deep work is a skill.
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to accomplish. The way to get there is to first cultivate the skill of deep work.
And make no mistake, it is a skill (and one that most people don’t have as I mentioned before).
So do whatever it is you want to do, go and put your 1–2 hours a day in, but go deep when you do.
Put your phone away.
Immerse yourself in the process.
Learn the fine details and nuances of the craft.
Let the hours pass without noticing.
You should be mentally exhausted when you’re done. This is how you know you’ve done it right.
We only have the capacity to do several hours of deep work per day because it’s so demanding.
So, forget putting in 60 to 80-hour work weeks. If you’re trying to get great at something, start with 1–2 hours of deep work per day.
First published on Quora.