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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > What you need to know about deep work and why more people are doing it

What you need to know about 'deep work' and why more people are doing it

Updated on: 22 January,2023 11:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Yusra Husain |

Instead of a 12-hour work day, four hours could be all you need. Switch to the more productive “deep work” mode like these ninjas

What you need to know about 'deep work' and why more people are doing it

Entrepreneur Adhunika Singh says timeboxing her schedule helps her deep work and be more productive in a short span. Pic/Sameer Markande

It is about 12.30 pm on a weekday and 26-year-old UX UI designer Priya Pai has pushed her phone aside after finishing that daily office call at noon. Her morning routine is over—skin care, gym, and scrolling through social media and replying to emails. She will now put an hour of focused work till she takes a break for lunch. After that, she will return to another three hours of work, till about 6 pm, which signals a coffee break. What Pai is following is the “deep work” strategy. It’s training her mind to not wander, having a routine, and sticking to it, having a dedicated work space and focusing on completing one task in a set period of time. 

Deep work is a term coined by author Cal Newport, meaning a mindful state of peak concentration that lets one achieve quality work quickly. It is similar to what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung did when he built himself a stone tower in the woods, where he focussed on his thoughts, or what businessman Bill Gates does, when he takes a yearly “think week”  at a remote cottage. It’s also what author JK Rowling did, when she checked herself in a five-star hotel suite to write the final part of the Harry Potter series. 

In recent times, deep work is explained as a period of attentive four to five hours of work, unlike the regular 8-10 or more hours of a workday where most of us end up doing “shallow work”—combing through emails, attending meetings after meetings, calls for work delegation and going back to social media, all of which roadblock our attention. US head-quartered project management platform, Asana, recently surveyed 10,624 global employees and learnt that “managers are losing 62 per cent of the workdays on work about work”.

Aditya Bhagavtula, Anupriya Agarwal, Gaurav Rastogi and Priya PaiAditya Bhagavtula, Anupriya Agarwal, Gaurav Rastogi and Priya Pai

“Earlier, I would sit with my laptop at 8.30 am,” says Delhi-based social media and digital marketeer Anupriya Agarwal, adding “but by lunch hour, I had completed nothing. Because I got up early, I was sleepy and the whole schedule would go haywire.” The 33-year-old decided to bring about a change. Now, she replies to emails between 10 am and 11 am, and doesn’t take calls before 11.30 am.  “I get up at a reasonable hour, have a good breakfast, work, have lunch and wrap up everything at 6 pm, which is when I do yoga. I became a lot more productive when I got comfortable with this routine, clearly established boundaries, and gave deliverables on time without being accessible all the time.”

Agarwal says all this took mental and behavioural change. Dr Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist at HN Reliance Foundation Hospital agrees. “Behavioural, psychological and an emotional change is required to do deep work,” she says. 

“Understanding brain chemistry is important for this,” she goes on to explain, “when you focus on a task or specific skill repeatedly for brief but regular periods of time, you force your brain to fire in a repetitive way. This triggers our neurons [brain cells] to wrap layers of white brain tissue called myelin over them. This consistent building of layers helps in better connectivity of the neurons and cements the skill in our brain.” Think of it like hitting the gym to build muscle by doing repeated exercise, she says. “With the myelin developing, our brain cells work faster and cleaner. Repeated performing of a cognitive task acts as a brain upgrade,” says Dr Dordi. 

Mumbai-based entrepreneur Adhunika Singh believes timeboxing her schedule helps her be more productive. “In school we all had time tables because it is important to train your mind to work or study with a time stamp, else you end up procrastinating,” says the 29-year-old. “After I finish delegating work to my team before lunch, I just switch to deep work mode, where no one enters my mind’s sanctum sanctorum.“

This discipline Singh applies to all notifications that reach her when she is in deep work mode. “My team does message me with updates and ideas, but I make a point not to check the notifications while I am completing a task I have given myself for that time box.” Delhi-based drummer, Aditya Bhagavtula, 20, also puts timers for himself when practicing a drumming exercise. “I started with three minutes. Now, I am up to 10-15 minutes. My mind wanders less.”

California-based deep work coach Gaurav Rastogi has coined the term Ekras for this, which is  focusing on a single task and combining it with meditation. 

“We are algorithmically conditioned by our phones to pick them up and scroll every few minutes. This blocks ideas, which are subliminal,” he says. “I ask people to think about the work at hand and forget everything else around, by using meditation. Once they are able to discipline their mind to perform in such a way, more work gets done in a single hour than an entire week,” he signs off.

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