What Is Deep Work And How To Get Better At It

Author: Madalina Roman

Do you often feel like your perceived importance depends on your ability to multitask and be super fast? Does your day end up just putting out fires and no chance to finish that strategy?

I get it. That’s relatable to way too many of us. That’s why I made a practical guide to help you create a deep work routine and get better at it.

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“I’ve doubled my revenue thanks to Timeular and managed to halve how much I work.” – Valdemar Alfred, Owner of Valdefar

What is deep work?

Deep work is when you focus deeply without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work tipically leads to enhanced productivity and efficiency at work, and not only.

The concept was initiated by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.”

By unpacking this definition, deep work includes two distinct parts:

  • You’re working on something difficult and thinking hard about it – that’s the easy part of the process, as Cal Newport suggests;

  • You’re doing it without distraction – which implies performing an activity in the absence of context switching ( which happens when you shift your attention from one cognitive context to another or from a task to another).

In order for a session to count as a deep work session, you cannot make context switches but be in a state of deep concentration.

Deep work vs. shallow work

In order to clarify what you’re aiming for and what deep work incorporates, you need to understand its opposite.

That’s where shallow work enters. Cal Newport introduces shallow work as tasks that are typically administrative, require minimal cognitive effort, and can involve frequent interruptions.

Before diving into the guide, keep in mind these aspects:

  • Shallow work is not less valuable; it is, however, the type of activity that can be performed while distracted.
  • Deep work is not a lifestyle or value judgment system about what work is important or not.

So, here are some examples of your terms glossary:

  • Deep work can be writing a strategy for the next quarter, a report, a book, coding, composing music, or developing a new concept—and it involves thinking hard about what you’re trying to say, what objectives your business has, etc.

  • Shallow work is when you’re formatting a chart in PowerPoint, Slacking a colleague, attending meetings, or adding time entries in your timesheet.

  • Context switching includes activities like checking your email, Slack messages, or phone at the same time as writing the strategy memo, which significantly decreases your cognitive effectiveness.

Making the distinction between deep and shallow work is pivotal in today’s modern workplace. It makes the difference between focused success and aimless busyness.

Do you know what your deep to shallow work ratio is?

Track time spent on tasks and crack the code to understand why you’re always drowning in shallow work.

Why does deep work matter?

The average worker is rather dissatisfied with their work output and unhappy with the inability to reach the bottom of their to-do list. There’s an obvious connection between how we work and the output rather than how many hours we invest into a task.

Before explaining why deep work matters, here’s a real radiography into the state of productivity at work:

  • Only 20% of people feel like their workload is under control on a daily basis, according to a Zippia study.
  • 82% of the population doesn’t have a proper time management system, so they deal “with whatever seems most important at the time.” (Zippia)
  • The average worker spends 51% of every workday on low to no-value tasks. (Zippia)
  • 39% of U.S. employee stress is generated by workload overload. (Zippia)
  • The average employee spends 2 hours and 11 minutes procrastinating each day. ((Zippia)
  • Gallup reports that employees who are disengaged and unproductive tend to have 18% lower productivity.

What’s more, the above numbers have hidden costs that backfire on an organization’s success as well as on employees’ well-being.

Yet, it is the deep efforts that move the needle. Deep work is benefitting us in the following ways:

  • You deliver higher quality output, as you’re dedicating enough time, attention, and dedication to it, so it’s easier to be creative and innovative;
  • You’re more productive, manage to finish your to-do list faster, and you will feel satisfied with your work – remember, it doesn’t feel good to have a never-ending list of deadlines looming over you;
  • Ultimately, according to Cal Newport’s words, the activity that produces value and allows you to keep performing what you’re doing – to be promoted, to write that pitch that can win business or grow your company typically has a foundation of deep work.

The 5 steps to practice deep work

In order to get better at deep work, you need to follow a simple recipe.

I’m not saying it’s easy, as it requires intention and a conscious effort, but you can practice deep work with these steps:

  1. Have a philosophy around deep work
  2. Set clear goals to start with
  3. Schedule deep work
  4. Protect that time with rituals and strategies
  5. Measure your deep work progress

1. Choose your deep work philosophy

Newport suggests that the first step is to choose a deep work philosophy that fits into your lifestyle, whether for work or your personal life.

Decide which one works for you.

  • The Monastic Philosophy: Being monastic implies a total immersion in your work. You must eliminate or minimize distractions while dedicating longer periods to focused tasks. In practice, you must set aside specific, uninterrupted blocks of time, such as entire mornings or afternoons, solely to work deeply.

Be aware that it’s an approach suitable for people who thrive in isolation and have autonomy over their work schedules, such as writers.

J.K. Rowling ( author of the “Harry Potter” novels) practices this approach

Rowling needed to finish the last book of the series and realized she needed a quiet place to focus deeply. So, she rented a room in a beautiful hotel in Edinburgh, hacked her environment, and immersed herself in an uninterrupted writing process. That’s how The Deathly Hallows was finished back in 2007.

You don’t have to rent a hotel like Rowling; all you need to do in our distracted world is choose a deep work task to focus on, block notifications, stop checking any communication channel for a specific time, and focus only on the task at hand.

  • The Bimodal Philosophy: The bimodal approach involves alternating periods of deep work with shallow work. In practice, you have to divide your time. Include clear stretches for deep pursuits followed by a period for shallow tasks. The scale of this division can be consecutive days in a week, specific weeks before a strategy meeting, and others.

Note: The Bimodal approach requires thoughtful planning and coordination with coworkers, but it is more sustainable than the monastic method.

At Timeular, we apply the bimodal philosophy by having No Meeting Thursday – the entire day is free of meetings for everyone to practice deep work.

Manuel Bruschi, CEO @Timeular
  • The Rhythmic Philosophy: This approach helps you establish a consistent work routine and transform a deep work routine into a regular habit. This model differs from the bimodal one in that it integrates deep work into your daily or weekly schedule. In practice, this approach can be doing deep work at exactly the same time every day for 2 hours, blocking your calendar for that interval, removing distractions, and letting your colleagues know about your practice.

Known also as the “Chain Method,” it sets a rhythm of having the same practice followed by another, just like in a chain reaction. This is most commonly met in a regular working life. It saves energy by requiring consistent practice and a deep work habit, which also reduces decision fatigue.

  • The Journalistic Philosophy: This strategy entices you to work deeply whenever possible, like a journalist who takes opportunities when they arise. It is not an easy practice as you need to shift between deep and shallow work quickly, but it’s applicable to the unpredictable and hectic schedules in today’s working life.

If you have irregular or on-call work schedules, this philosophy allows you to capitalize on pockets of free time for deep work pursuits. Whether it’s a few minutes between meetings or a brief lull in, maximize productivity by prioritizing deep work whenever possible.

2. Set clear goals and prioritize them

We’re all biased by the planning fallacy that misleads us into believing we can achieve more than we objectively can in a specific amount of time.

This phenomenon lies in the optimism bias, our brain’s natural drive towards positivity. To control it and predict realistically, you need to prioritize them beforehand.

Prioritizing will help you concentrate solely on specific tasks without residual worries caused by work overload.

Here are two strategies to help you recognize and prioritize the highest-impact activities for your deep work session:

  • Eat the Frog first: Start your deep work session with the most complex or the most important task on your list, as otherwise, you’ll be dreading and stressing over too much because of these tasks;

  • Use The 4 Ds of time management: Understand, using a matrix created by a former president of the United States, which tasks need to be done now, deferred for later, delegated to someone else, or deleted from your list.

How Timeular helps a design agency balance their workload and increase productivity

“It’s important for us to have the ability to review our workload and ensure that time is spent in the right places.” – Senior Designer at O’Brien Media

In conclusion, prioritize tasks and set goals using objective strategies to escape the planning bias and start your deep work session. Also, when setting your goals, keep into account your available time, energy level, and competing priorities.

If you still need help with prioritization, the following might help:

  1. A short and practical guide on how to prioritize tasks in 7 steps;
  2. Understand why it is important to set realistic goals.

3. Schedule deep work

Assuming that you’ll have the natural instinct or mood to work deeply is unrealistic. So, you need to be intentional about this practice and make room for it.

The easiest way to build deep work into your routine follows this structure:

  • Schedule deep work into your week – Try to factor in the times you’re at peak productivity during the day or week, or simply block off chunks of your calendar when you don’t have any meetings.

  • Now, implement your philosophy: Maybe you’ll schedule the same 2-hour morning interval every day only for deep work or every week on Thursdays. You can just plan deep work bespoke at the beginning of the week, depending on where it can be fitted into your schedule or on a day-to-day basis. What’s important is that you include and protect this time in your calendar.

Here are two proven techniques that help in scheduling and managing a deep work session:

A. The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is effective for beginners working fully immersed in a cognitive task. It trains their minds with short bursts of intense work followed by short periods of rest.

Typically, it requires you to break work into intervals of 25 minutes, separated by short breaks.

How to implement the Pomodoro Technique

  1. Set a specific task: Identify a task you want to work on during a Pomodoro session. It could be writing a report, coding in a new programming language, or competitor analysis.

  2. Set a Pomodoro timer: Set a timer for 25 minutes, which is the length of a Pomodoro session.

  3. Work intensely: Immerse solely in the task at hand for the duration of the session. Don’t be tempted to check any emails, messages, or other distractions.

  4. Take a short break: After completing a Pomodoro, take a 5-minute short break. Use this time to rest, stretch, or engage in any quick activity unrelated to work.

  5. Reiterate: Repeat the cycle of Pomodoros and breaks as needed to make progress on your task. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes before returning to work.


Imagine you’re a writer who wants to write a new article. You decide to use this strategy to increase writing speed.

Set a timer for 25 minutes and devote that time exclusively to writing without any interruption. After completing a Pomodoro, you take a 5-minute break to recharge. Repeat this cycle until you’ve reached your daily writing goal.

You might also find useful: Practical Tips for Effective Time Management

B. Time Blocking

Time blocking entices you to devote specific blocks of time to different tasks or activities.

It allows you to block either multiple shallow tasks into a time block or a bigger project that requires deep work.

How to implement time-blocking

  1. Identify priority tasks: Identify the most important tasks or projects that require your full attention. This could include a deep work session, some admin work, or personal activities.

  2. Allocate blocks of time: Assign blocks of time to each task or activity based on its importance and urgency. Ensure that deep work sessions are given enough time and protected from interruptions.

  3. Use a calendar or planner: Use a digital calendar, planner, or time management tool like Timeular to visualize your schedule and allocate blocks of time accordingly. This aids in having clarity and organization in your routine.

  4. Stick to your schedule: Treat this time blocked in your calendar like any other appointment in your calendar. Simply decide that you cannot re-schedule this interval of time, set boundaries and minimize distractions.

  5. Review and adjust: Review your time-blocking schedule, assess its effectiveness, and make adjustments whenever needed. Be flexible and responsive to changing priorities or unforeseen events.

Download: Free printable Time blocking templates

4. Protect your deep work time

According to research by the Faculty of Haas Berkeley, rituals play a significant role in shaping behaviors and triggering actions, as our brains form a cognitive association.

So, adding rituals before your deep work sessions triggers your mind to sleep into deep work mode.

Worry not—these rituals can be as simple as walking the same route before starting your deep work session. You can also go to the same office space, make the same cup of coffee just before starting work, and do other things.

Here’s a structured list of what Cal Newport suggests in his book as good ritual triggers:

  • Location: Choose an environment in which you can carve out focus uninterrupted. What’s important is to signal your brain that you’re in the exact same spot it deeply focuses on every occasion.


-> Your home corner office where no one else is allowed to keep it free of distractions;

-> A meeting room at the office reserved for you;

-> Even an open coworking space with noise-canceling headphones

  • Duration: Clarify the length of your session as your brain performs better when it’s given some time limits or deadlines. You’ll get into the habit of the practice, but it needs exercise.


-> If you’re working on multiple tasks, break the session in Pomodoros into 25 minutes, split by 5 minutes between tasks;

-> Schedule shorter focus intervals of 15 minutes or even longer;

  • Structure: Define ground rules to respect during your deep work session. Specify what success looks like in your session—that can be finishing the strategy, reaching a certain point on the memo, or the number of words written in an article.

Other examples:

-> Keeping your phone in work mode or even keeping it away in a drawer;

-> Turning off any notifications on your laptop from your team;

-> Not checking emails or turning the internet off.

  • Requirements: It will take time to understand what elements you need to be part of your work session for it to be successful.


-> Play brown noise or binaural beats on YouTube;

-> Start the session with a black coffee;

-> Write your to-do-s in your bullet notebook;

-> Put everything you need on your desk so you’re not tempted to leave in the midst of the session and get distracted.

Remember, rituals are important as they prompt your mind to a specific type of activity with a simple cognitive association. The more you practice them, the more primed your mind will be to repeat them and turn them into habits.

5. Measure deep work progress

Once you’ve started applying the strategies, you must understand progress and what is stifling it and adjust.

Get an overview of your deep-to-shallow work ratio and figure out if you are truly productive during those deep work sessions.

Here is how you can track your time:

  • Do a time audit: Perform a quick analysis of how you’re spending your time on different tasks, particularly with the aim of dropping the shallow work proportion in favor of deep work. You’ll get a glance into what your time wasters are and recognize patterns of productivity or lack of it.

A time audit can be as simple as listing down all your activities, the time spent on them, and which ones are deep versus shallow work.

Then, assess if you’re spending too much time on shallow tasks and direct that time to deep pursuits.

  • Use an automatic time-tracking app to audit your time with precision and without hassle. Such a tool tracks all your work in the background and displays productivity dashboards.

This way, you can objectively identify your most used apps when working, times at which you’re unproductive so you can schedule deep work at your best hours, and others.

Timeular - AI time tracker

A time-tracking app like Timeular can help you with other time-related matters, too:

  • Generating customizable and easy-to-digest time reports to check hours worked on different tasks and easily reveal team efficiency, project or client profitability;

  • Measuring inefficiency or work overload with an automatic overtime tracker;

  • Notifying you once you surpass a time budget: If you’re setting yourself 10 hours of shallow work per week in your time tracker, the app will notify you once you reach certain limits ( e.g., 50%, 80%, or 90% – depending on how you set it);

  • Tracking billable and non-billable hours, in case you need to bill accurately to clients;

Get a glance into how Timeular and check how this time-tracking app can be part of your deep work process:

Once you’ve made your audit and reflected on the effectiveness of your deep work strategies, adjust your approach as needed to optimize productivity and performance.

Where is your deep work time sinking?

Track time spent on work automatically, audit it, and dedicate it to deep work instead.

Other ways to get better at deep work

Despite your best efforts, you may find common challenges and distractions that get in the way of your deep practice. Here are some tips to help you work deeply and overcome these obstacles.

Minimize distractions

Identify and eliminate potential distractions in your work environment, such as noise, clutter, or interruptions from coworkers or family members. Use tools or techniques to block out distractions (like Slack messages) and maintain focus during your deep work session. Also, quit social media.

Newport encourages people to take an honest look at their interactions with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Do you need any of these platforms? Do you particularly need them during work?

Related content: Ways to increase focus and concentration

Set clear boundaries

Communicate your deep work schedule and boundaries with colleagues, family members, or roommates to ensure uninterrupted focus during designated work periods.

Setting clear expectations and boundaries helps create a supportive environment for deep work.

Optimize ergonomics

Make sure your workspace is ergonomically designed to promote comfort and productivity.

Invest in ergonomic furniture, lighting, and accessories to create a functional work environment that enhances your ability to engage in deep work.

Practice mindfulness and concentration techniques

Incorporating mindfulness practices shouldn’t be overlooked.

In a study published by the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, meditators had better attentional control and reduced emotional distraction compared to non-meditators. A three-minute session of deep breathing or meditation can massively improve one’s ability to stay focused during deep work sessions.

Also, train your attention by gradually increasing the duration of your deep work sessions and practicing sustained focus over time.

Manage your time effectively

Allocate time for shallow work tasks, such as email, meetings, and administrative tasks, while also carving out time for deep work.

Set realistic expectations for your workload and avoid over-commitment to ensure you have time for both deep work and other responsibilities.

Use time management tools like Timeular as well as techniques to track your time, prioritize tasks, and make informed decisions about how to allocate your resources. To calculate overtime, use our free Overtime Calculator.

Seek support and accountability

It can be challenging to manage this process on your own, so surround yourself with supportive peers, mentors, or accountability partners. They can provide encouragement, feedback, and accountability for your deep work goals.

Join or form a deep work community or tribe to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and exchange tips and strategies for overcoming challenges. Seek professional support from a coach in case you’re struggling with being productive, or you want to master your deep work practice.

Don’t forget to celebrate small victories and progress milestones to build momentum in your deep work practice.

Read also: Elon Musk daily schedule template

Stop being busy all the time

Track time spent on work automatically, audit it, and dedicate it to deep work instead.


More than just a strategic tool, deep work represents a fundamental shift in the way you work, your results, and how you feel about your work at the end of the day.

It challenges the notion of constant busyness and multitasking, advocating instead for focused, undistracted periods of intense concentration.

So, I’m hoping you’re taking on this paradigm shift and rethinking your approach to productivity while prioritizing depth over shallowness in your work.

You might be interested in:


Is deep work possible in a noisy environment?

Achieving deep work in a noisy environment is challenging but possible with noise-canceling headphones or by finding quieter spaces.

What are some effective Deep Work techniques for beginners?

Effective deep work techniques for beginners include time blocking, the Pomodoro technique, and minimizing digital distractions.

How long should Deep Work sessions be?

The duration of deep work sessions varies but typically ranges from 60 to 90 minutes, allowing for sustained focus without mental fatigue.

Can Deep Work help with multitasking and time management?

Yes, deep work promotes better time management by encouraging individuals to prioritize tasks and set aside focused periods for intense work, reducing the need to multitask.

Are there any specific tools or applications that can help with Deep Work?

Specific tools and apps that can support deep work include time-tracking apps like Timeular, workload management tools like Jira, and focus enhancement apps like Freedom.