Six tips that will help you learn to concentrate properly again.
What is “deep work”? Six tips that will help you learn to concentrate properly again. How can we fight the flood of information in this digital age? Cal Newport, computer scientist and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a pioneer of a new school of thought. He has turned his ideas into a bestselling book, Deep Work. His plea is for people to once again make time and space for real concentration. This will make them more productive and more content. Here are six tips for how we can use this technique in our daily lives.
1. Spend some time offline
Newport describes what many of us do every day in the office as general “activity”. This includes simply carrying out bureaucratic tasks or communicating via email or smartphone. Employees demonstrate certain levels of productivity, but do not really have any outstanding achievements to show for it. Newport’s “deep work” concept is entirely different in this respect. It is a form of highly concentrated activity, a rush of accomplishment. How does it work? By going offline periodically and blocking out all distractions, using the time to focus on an important problem.
2. Eliminate unnecessary distractions
Cal Newport’s daily life is hardly a standard model; until recently, he did not even have a smartphone, and he does not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. When he gives talks about why social media is unnecessary, not everyone agrees with him. His guiding principle is that not every technical gadget represents progress, so you must consider carefully which ones really will help you become more productive. Many people are stressed, which leads them to concentrate on the wrong things.
3. Focus on the positive
“What you think (and) feel (...) is the sum of what you focus on,” says psychologist Winifred Gallagher. This means that anyone who spends the day attending meetings and answering emails usually focuses on negative things, such as problems with colleagues, deadlines, or superficial questions. Positive feelings, however, allow for “deep work”. We can recognise this concept as it makes us forget time and our surroundings, and we feel truly content. Motivational psychologists describe this as a state of forgetting, an art that is often practised successfully by writers, painters and professional athletes.
4. Create the right working environment
It is not so difficult to create the perfect conditions; all you need is to find a quiet place and deliberately limit the technology you use. In the workplace, this means banning digital distractions as far as possible. It’s all about taking back control. Decide for yourself what you want to focus on. It will soon become clear that this is not as easy as it sounds. Before we can achieve “deep work”, we need a type of detox. We must relearn how to not be distracted by digital temptations.
5. Reclaim your attention
The good news is that attention is like a muscle that can be exercised. It is possible to reclaim it by taking some time out. Neurobiological studies show that people who have been meditating for several years have strengthened certain connections in the brain that increase concentration. For example, they can deactivate more quickly the brain areas that allow distractions, and to use the pre-frontal cortex more effectively, which controls our powers of concentration. Training our brains is like any other physical exercise: the key is to practice often enough.
6. Find your flow
Even 60 minutes of focused work without interruption can significantly improve the quality of our work, as proven by researchers at Saarland University, who carried out a study with a group of managers who worked for an hour in silence. They turned off their phones and the internet, went to a quiet place and focused specifically on the most important task on their to-do list. With just a little practice, you can find your flow – and test subjects can become happy 'deep workers'.
This text is based on a longer summary that appeared in the Mercedes-Benz me magazine.