Deep Work: How To Kill Distractions And Boost Productivity

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree December 11, 2021

It's 10:34 a.m. on a Thursday morning while I'm writing this. Headphones on. Spotify activated. Weird 'Focus Mode' playlist playing. Notifications are turned off for both laptop and phone. I'm in the zone, so to speak.

4236 1140x0

You just got a sneak peak into my so-called "deep work" sessions.

I picked up this new routine (which I'll share in more detail below) a while ago after reading Cal Newport's bestselling book 'Deep Work'. It was on my to-read list for a long time. A few months ago, I finally got to it.

And I loved it.

Deep work

Well, to be honest, I loved the book's central message—I didn't like the fact that the author needed 304 pages to explain it. As with many self-help books, the text on the book's back cover said it (nearly) all in just a few sentences:

"Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way."

Newport makes a distinction between deep work ("Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.") and shallow work ("Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate").

To clarify with a few examples:

  • Deep work: programming, writing, studying, researching, analyzing data, developing strategy, etc.
  • Shallow work: email, chat, (nearly all) meetings, etc.

In today's distracted world, there's a huge lack of focused time for deep work activities. As we wrote earlier:

"Gloria Mark, professor at the University of California, studies digital distraction. She reports that when people get distracted, it can take 23 minutes to get back to the original task. This wouldn’t be too bad if we were distracted once or twice a day. But that’s not the case. Several studies found office workers get distracted every three minutes!"


My main takeaways from the book are as follows: Start by splitting up deep work and shallow work; you can't properly do it simultaneously. Kill distractions, especially when you do your more important focused work. Allow for important breaks. Plan your other tasks around your deep work.

A new routine

We've got quite a few things going on at Corporate Rebels. We're growing the Corporate Rebels Academy, giving presentations and workshops for our clients, launching a radically new type of private equity startup, running a foundation, researching pioneering organizations, and writing blog posts and books.

Focusing on improving my deep work quality and quantity has allowed me to be much more productive than before. Mainly because of the wide variety of activities, it is vital to me to craft out time for work that requires clear focus and concentration.

Here's how I currently go about it:

  • I've turned off all notifications on my phone (except calls). At first, I was a bit hesitant to turn off WhatsApp notifications too, but it has been great. I reply when it suits me, not when my phone wants me to.
  • Most of my workdays start with a focused deep work session. These sessions are dedicated to activities such as writing, researching, preparing talks, etc. Afternoons are for calls, meetings, email, and other less focus-requiring activities.
  • Mostly, I plan these from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., since I can focus much better in the mornings. I block my calendar, so the rest of the team knows not to plan anything else.
  • During deep work, I enable 'focus mode' on my phone and laptop. This disables call notifications too.
  • I put on my headphones, so others know not to disturb me. Plus, I play some lovely focus music.
Deep Work: How To Kill Distractions And Boost Productivity
Click to tweet

Writing and researching aren't activities that you can do without clear focus—or at least, I can't. These simple changes have made a big difference for me.

Now that I've had a few months of experimenting with it, I strongly recommend you to find your own deep work routine. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Go deep or go home.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
Read more
Mar 08, 2023
Steward-ownership: For Entrepreneurs Who Want to Make a Positive Impact
Gijsbert Koren Written by Gijsbert Koren
Have you heard about steward-ownership? If not, you probably heard that Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is giving away his company to…
Read more
Feb 22, 2023
The Corporate Rebels Handbook Series - What to Expect (and Not Expect) When Working at Corporate Rebels
Pim de Morree Written by Pim de Morree
This post is part of an ongoing series that gives you an insider’s look at the Corporate Rebels company handbook. If you’re new to this…
Read more
Jan 28, 2023
Mayden’s No Blame Culture
Michele Rees-Jones Written by Michele Rees-Jones
‘Blame’ is a loaded, negative word. But it’s a common reaction when something goes wrong. Some even look for people to blame. It shifts…
Read more
Jan 07, 2023
A New Year: New Opportunities And Fresh Starts
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
The first week of January is traditionally a time to make New Year resolutions - the time of the year when we look forward to the new year…
Read more
Dec 14, 2022
Announcing Our New On-Demand Course: "How NER Works"
Emma de Blok Written by Emma de Blok
Today, we’re launching a new Corporate Rebels Academy Course: “How NER Works..” This radical (and proven) approach to self-management truly…
Read more
Oct 19, 2022
Starting A Workstyle Revolution
Alex Hirst Written by Alex Hirst
Conversations between ‘Corporate Rebels’ like us inevitably end up taking the same line of personal enquiry. What was it that made you…
Read more
Read all articles