The Superpower Of Deep Work

We all know that triangle: the one with corners labelled quality, time, and cost (choose two!) Much as we’d like our businesses to achieve champagne on a beer budget – and yesterday – we just can’t have it all. But as a serial start-up CEO, I also know that we kind of need it all.

We all know that triangle: the one with corners labelled quality, time, and cost (choose two!) Much as we’d like our businesses to achieve champagne on a beer budget – and yesterday – we just can’t have it all. But as a serial start-up CEO, I also know that we kind of need it all.

‘If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive – no matter how skilled or talented you are.’ ~ Cal Newport.

Companies are in a never-ending race against the competition, market trends, cash flow, and runway, mostly all at once. So while I strive to keep the demands on my business and its people reasonable, I’m aware that a company’s ability to brilliantly create is the difference between thriving and dying.

I’m also aware that in today’s climate, simply surviving is no longer an option. Surviving is just the first step toward dying. Walking that constant – and exhausting – tightrope between brilliance and burnout is one of the many reasons I became fascinated with deep work.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

Deep work is a term coined by Cal Newport, productivity guru and professor at Georgetown University. Deep work is what you do in a state of focused, distraction-free concentration. It’s work that produces things that really matter: business strategy, scientific discoveries, and beautiful computer code.

Newport’s thesis is this: “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy… the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

But the unfortunate reality for most of us is that our work lives are consumed by distraction. We spend our day switching tasks and contexts, drowning in ‘shallow’ tasks, and feeling unsatisfied with our lack of real achievement.

As a CEO, this worries me. I need my team to come up with innovative ideas and get them implemented quickly. But an environment full of online and offline distractions stops my people from working at their best.

The Cost Of Distraction

According to psychologist Gerald Weinberg, for every extra task that demands someone’s attention, they lose at least 20% of overall productivity. So if you’re focusing on one task you have 100% of your time available, but if you focus on two tasks 20% is lost to context switching, leaving only 80% of time available for those two tasks and so on.

And most working environments are a hotbed of distraction. Employees tend to be placed in an open-plan layout, exposed to sounds (and smells) they have no control over. They’re asked to juggle ‘urgent’ requests and ‘quick chats’ when in the middle of something else, and even when working from home, to take part in an endless stream of Zoom calls.

So how can companies ensure their knowledge workers are getting time to actually do the work they meet frequently to plan.

Implementing A Deep Work Culture

I predict that like other initially disruptive innovations – PCs, IM, Agile – deep work will eventually become indispensable in the workplace.

It’s helpful to think of deep work in the same way companies started thinking about Agile in the 90s. Yes, Agile was a methodology designed to tackle frustrations people were having with development processes. But for Agile to become successful within an organisation, all teams needed to embrace the philosophy and change their ways of working.

Implementing ‘deep work’ into your culture is similar to implementing agile methodologies: for companies to be successful at deep work, it needs to become embedded into their culture and ways of working.

My advice to those wanting to build a deep work culture is to try and weave some of the key deep work ingredients into your team’s working day.

Blocking Time

We all know nothing happens that ain’t diarised. So your people need uninterrupted chunks of time blocked out for deep work. Every day, for at least an hour (maybe a few). This time needs to be completely distraction‑free: no meetings, no calls, no emails.

At FLOWN, we schedule deep work slots throughout the day, that staff can join if they need to. We’ve also introduced ‘Deep Work Fridays’, a day of meeting-free focus where staff have no commitment except getting stuff done.

Rethinking The Office

It’s one thing to give people time, but they also need spaces conducive to distraction-free work. Cal Newport references architect David Dewane’s ‘Eudaimonia Machine’. It’s essentially a blueprint for an optimal office layout, and advocates creating the following zones:

  • Gallery – inspiration space, where deep work output is displayed
  • Salon – collaboration/discussion space
  • Library – research/learning space, where all resources are stored
  • Office – light/shallow workspace, where distractions are welcome
  • Chamber – deep workspace, with intense, distraction-free focus

The beauty of post-pandemic hybrid working is that geographical distance can be used to your advantage: workers’ homes might be their deep work ‘chamber’, and the office could be the ‘salon’. With careful planning, even your existing spaces can be made to work for you.

Creating Accountability

Deep work requires practice and consistency – which is why the most successful creators in the world use routines and rituals to access deep work every day. They also find ways to hold themselves to account.

Workers can struggle to achieve this on their own, so it’s important to help them. At FLOWN, we host ‘community deep work’ sessions where workers set intentions together and then deep work silently alongside each other, checking in at the end – providing both ritual and accountability.


Deep work isn’t about chaining someone to their desk so that they can work uninterrupted for hours on end – quite the opposite! Deep work requires intense focus and can be tiring. Most people need to recharge after an hour or two.

It’s rare for employers to design and implement enriching breaks, but science shows people are far more productive if given regular breaks to recharge the mind.

At FLOWN, we offer a range of recharge sessions built around physical exercise and exposure to greenery. We recommend your People team build a database of activities that can be offered to teams, and hold managers to account for ensuring their people work, rest and play.

Deep work has been dubbed “the superpower of the 21st century”. Like Agile, it’s going to become central to how teams transform their working practices. It will give any business that embeds the practice a huge competitive advantage over those who haven’t yet realised the degree to which deep work is essential for real value creation. 

About the author: Alicia Navarro is the founder and CEO of  FLOWN, a virtual coworking platform that provides an online deep work toolkit. Frustrated by how hard it was to find the physical and mental spaces conducive to productive and creative thinking, Alicia began FLOWN to offer a set of online tools and resources to enable accountability, focus and creativity.

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