Newport’s book is the result of his observation of this common everyday reality and the contrasting of this work pattern with the habits of successful and productive individuals. Research has shown that individuals who allocate dedicated time slots, usually ranging between 90 to 120 minutes, to a cognitively demanding task without the distraction of even background updates, perform significantly better than others. This physical, emotional, and mental state of deep work allows the human mind to perform at its peak capacity, often yielding astonishing results.
Spotlight on focus time
Focus time is an incredibly famous and widely adopted time management solution. It involves dedicating clearly defined chunks of time to accomplish particular tasks with small breaks built-in. In practice, this might look like allocating a 45-minute time slot to work on an important task. This is followed by a quick break of 5 minutes that is usually used to stretch or take a short walk or even grab a healthy snack. Post the 5-minute breather, the cycle continues with another 45-minute slot for focused work. This cycle would go on for about 120 minutes until the schedule allows a longer 30-minute break.
This sounds almost regimental, however the practice has been proven to increase focus at tasks while preserving energy, improving well-being, and promoting better productivity.
The success of this method stems from the sense of urgency from doing tasks in a time-bound manner. The explicit reminders of break and work times and the spotlight on getting down to business within a given time frame help individuals to dedicate their entire potential to the task at hand.
Focus time is an excellent partner of deep work, often being touted as a fundamental practice to a deep work routine.
Deep work in the remote workplace
Remote work is a natural ally of deep work. The reality of being away from office chatter, the reduced external distractions, and the comfort zone one creates within their remote work setup become important factors that contribute to practicing deep work.
However, this alliance of deep work in remote settings needs mindful partnership since it’s also equally possible to not succeed. Remote workers tend to adopt a lifestyle of being “always-on”. Usually, they stay on by staying active on shallow work activities – email and instant messaging being the most common. When workers feel pressured to stay active on communication platforms, they lose the opportunity to practice deep work.
What hampers deep work in the remote workplace?
Attention residue due to context switching
Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota, first introduced the term attention residue in her 2009 research paper ‘Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?. She studied the effect that switching between tasks had on employee performance. The results showed that people struggle to transition between tasks, often risking under-performance in subsequent tasks. She also observed that disengaging after completion of one task led to better performance on ensuing tasks.
In the remote workplace where employees struggle to find a balance between their work and personal lives, and where employees are pressured to collaborate, communicate, and work all at the same time, the multiple switching between tasks hampers the opportunity to create and follow a deep work routine.
Staying always on
The culture of staying plugged in to work, particularly the staying “available” on communication apps, to combat the pitfalls of the problem of low visibility has led to an increasingly busy workforce. This workforce, although plugged in and busy, unfortunately, doesn’t deliver results in terms of volume or value. The need to stay visible to colleagues and managers, particularly in remote work environments, severely limits an employee’s ability to follow a deep work practice.