The 'deep work' method that will allow you to leave the office on time.

When J. K. Rowling was trying to finish the last Harry Potter novel, but was consistently getting distracted by her home life, she packed up to a nearby hotel and wrote the rest of the book there.

The multi-millionaire author isn’t the only successful person who’s seen the benefits of isolating themselves in order to work productively.

Author and computer scientist at Georgetown University, Cal Newport, noticed the pattern. It’s the basis of his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

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According to Newport, the daily distractions we all face at work – emails, meetings, phone calls, urgent tasks – are harming our productivity. He says that these “shallow” tasks, keep us from immersing ourselves in one task and really getting stuff done – “deep working”.

Speaking on the podcast Hidden Brain, Newport tells Shankar Vedantam deep work is the key to getting more done in your workday and leaving on time.

The problem is, almost no one does it.

“Even when people think they’re single-tasking… every five minutes they’re still doing a “just check” to their inbox, to their phone,” he explains.

Newport says that though these quick checks don’t seem like they’re impacting your efforts to concentrate on one thing, they’re actually having a “massive negative impact” on your mental performance.


He says it doesn’t matter how quick your “just check” is because “it’s the switch itself that hurts, not how long you switch”.

Studies back up Newport’s advice, showing that performances drop after distraction. Yet removing distractions aren’t prioritised.

“We treat it, I think, in this more general sense of, ‘eh, I probably should be less distracted.’ But I think it’s more urgent than people realise.”

He says people who rely on their brain power for their jobs, such as engineers, designers and creative writers, should realise that by giving in to distractions, they’re not getting the most out of their day.

The other plus is that “deep work” is much more satisfying, Newport found, with people who work like this reporting greater happiness levels.

So how do you practice “deep work”?

Well, Newport explains in his book that “deep work” involves blocking out time in your workday where you will work on one task and one task only – like a design – and turn off all notifications during this time, so you don’t stop the task until is done. Then you can have a set period of time to work on your daily “shallow work” like replying to emails, before you dive into some more deep work. The theory is you’ll be more productive this way, and therefore get more done in the same eight hours and be able to comfortably leave on time.


Of course, if you’re an employee you’ll need to talk to your boss about this. (Otherwise, they’ll wonder why your regular 15-minute turn-around on emails has suddenly blown out to five hours.)

Newport suggests first explaining the concepts of deep and shallow work to your manager, then agreeing on a ratio for how much time should be spent on each.

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The good news is, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you’re not alone.

“It’s something that you train and get better at, just like you get better at certain types of meditation,” Newport says. “It’s a skill to be practised, not a habit you already know how to do.”

On the podcast, Newport shared some other tips for making deep work, work for you.

Plan or log your deep work hours. Newport says he used to log his deep work hours so he could look back and be held accountable. However, he now plans his deep work in advance and blocks it out on his calendar, so he doesn’t schedule anything during his designated deep work hours.


Get rid of social media if you can. Unlike for the author, who’s never opened a social media account, sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can offer massive distractions. If you can’t get rid of social media altogether, at least limit your use to never during work hours.

Plan your day. While most of us can let our mood dictate what we work on next, Newport schedules his day so that he knows exactly what task he’s planned to work on – and sticks to it. This is the perfect antidote to procrastination.

Get comfortable with annoying people. Newport knows he annoys people when he doesn’t reply to an email within the hour or occasionally needs to be reminded about a task, but by being comfortable with this instead of fearing it, he allows himself to turn off distractions without worrying about what he’s missing.

Finish on time, with a plan for tomorrow. In order to stop working for the day when he leaves the office and not bring work home, Newport finishes his day by looking at what he needs to do tomorrow, knowing it can wait until then. He then says a mantra aloud to signal to himself the day is done.

Have you tried deep work? Do you think it could work for you? Tell us about it in the comments below.