There is concentration and then there is "Deep Work." The term was devised by Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport defines deep work as "professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit."
In other words, in order to do your best brain work you need to practice regular bouts of intense, uninterrupted concentration.
As entrepreneurs, we often get pulled in a million directions and don't always know which of our multiple important tasks should be completed first. Deep Work not only sharpens your ability to focus, but helps produce better results in less time, according to Newport. The practice also increases your ability to tap more into creative thinking needed for problem solving and long-term planning.
Deep Work sounds great (and it is), but it requires practice and patience. It's an ongoing process so expect to have some setbacks as you find your own path.
I'd recommend reading Newton's book to get a more detailed look at how Deep Work operates, but you can begin to practice it on your own. The key is to add routines and rituals to your working life that are designed to maintain a state of unbroken concentration. Here's how:
1. Set a time.
Begin with a small period, such as 10 to 20 minutes. You may feel you can do more, but trying to maintain intense concentration for too long can leave you exhausted and discouraged. Once you feel you can go longer than 20 minutes, extend the time to 30 minutes, and then longer. Another option is to break up your Deep Work into two blocks of time like the morning and afternoon. I find it's important to use my calendar to block this time just like I would for a client.
Deep Work requires a shelter from outside distractions. Close your office door or go offsite, and block your access to the Internet. I especially enjoy the "Do Not Disturb" option on my iPhone, which stops notifications so I can focus.
3. Prep your mind.
Before you begin, devote time to quieting your mind and preparing for Deep Work. I set a two-minute timer on my phone and do a quick meditation where I count my breathes and let go of distracting thoughts. I also utilize meditation apps for more structured guided meditations. Not only do these clear my mind, but help me shift my energy from a state of stress to one of calm.
4. Focus on one task.
Do not attempt to tackle too much at once. Use your Deep Work time to concentrate on a single project, such as finishing a report, completing research, or just brainstorming ideas. When you try to do too much at once, you end up spreading your attention too thin. I keep a list of ongoing tasks that I need to complete and circle the ones that are the highest priority.
5. Turn off your brain.
Shut down your brain at day's end -- no after-dinner email checks and no mulling over a current project. Building this wall between your business and personal life trains your brain to separate work time from down time. This way your mind will know it's time to focus during your next Deep Work session. Yoga and practicing my guitar helps me let go of the work day and also realize that it's okay if I didn't get everything done I wanted.
Nowadays it's harder to invest in periods of total mental focus, but Deep Work can be a way to truly maximize your brain's potential and utilize it for the most important tasks at hand each day. It takes time and commitment, like learning and improving any other skill, but done right Deep Work can help you tap into the vast power of concentration, focus, and engagement everyone possesses.