DND for Deep Work

A common problem for creatives (and most of us, really), is making time for focused, creative work. We all crave that couple hours to dive into a project without being distracted, but this kind of focus is hard to come by.

Cal Newport calls this “deep work” and “a superpower in our current economy”. Because of our levels of distraction, the skill of focusing on cognitive tasks for an extended period of time is becoming more and more rare.

Though we crave time for deep work, our habits often work against us.

Designed for Distraction

I’ve noticed my boot-up pattern when I get into the office in the morning. Is yours similar?

First, I open up all my communication apps.


Email, Slack, Messages, Skype etc. Communication with my various teams is mission-critical, but each of these tools is designed for distraction. Whenever there’s a new note or question or message, it’s these apps’ job to let you know. They don’t know whether the new message is a fire to put out, or a reminder for something next week, the app just knows it needs to interrupt you to let you know it’s there.

The Work

If I move beyond the barrage presented by the above apps, then I crack open my “creation” tools.


These are the tools that signal action. When I’m in Photoshop or or TextMate I’m making stuff, doing the proactive work of putting something into the world.

Making stuff requires time for “deep work”, focusing on a single project long enough to have insights, make breakthroughs, or simply complete a thought.

It’s not that emails and communication isn’t important, it’s just that, unchecked, this kind of distraction will keep you from the deep work indefinitely.

The Tension

Often these two sets of tools – or, more accurately the kind of work they represent – are in tension with each other. And in a tug-of-war for my attention, the loudest voices usually win.

That’s why I’ve discovered the magic of quieting these voices.


Occasionally (and hopefully with more regularity in the future) I hit “do not disturb” to the inputs to focus on the important-but-not-urgent projects. Justin Jackson calls this “heads down” time, and it’s pure bliss. I’ve found that making time for deep work can make the difference in feeling productive and fulfilled at the end of the day.

Unchecked, the voices of distraction will stake their claim on your entire day. How can you clear space for more of that deep work that you’re craving?