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4 Modes of Deep Work & Why it’s Important

Deep work vs shallow work.

What is deep work? In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport defines it as: 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 is the time, space, and mental state to accomplish tasks and projects that require substantial effort and focus. Or, that could simply be done better, with more focus and less distraction. Research suggests that it takes nearly 90 minutes for the brain to full enter the deep work state. Furthermore, it suggests that the idea of multitasking is flawed, and the brain is not meant to focus on multiple things at once, rather you end up doing a bunch of things poorly.

Examples: Imagine while you are trying to sleep, I come and ask you every 30 minutes, “how’s your sleep?” “how’s your sleep?”. It wouldn’t be very good and if this lasted another night you would be barely rested to say the least. The REM sleep you are needing to achieve is like deep work and the interruptions are like the ones in our daily lives. Or say you were building a Jenga tower and someone kept coming in the room and pulling a block out and asking, “hey look at this one”, which causes you to start all over again.

These are like the text messages, emails, social media alerts, phone calls, check ins from co-workers etc. This is all shallow work, and certainly a very necessary part of today’s world both professionally and personally. The idea is to make a habit of separating time for both the deep work and shallow work.

So how can I do this you might ask?

There are 4 ways to approach deep work, and each one could be just right for you, or perhaps a combination. The idea is trying to integrate one into your life.

1) Monastic:

Per its name the monastic approach draws on the philosophy of nearly eliminating all shallow work obligations and connections. This person may not even have or check emails for long periods of time for example. It could include periods of isolation and long stretches of uninterrupted work. Scholars and authors may often lean towards the monastic approach due to the nature of their work.

2) Bi-Modal:

This is probably the most relatable and easiest mode to integrate into practice for most people. With this approach you would have set times and even perhaps places, where you would enter the deep work mode. For example, you might say, every Tuesday and Thursday at the local coffee shop from 9-11AM. For the rest of the week and at all periods you allow for shallow work, but you hold firm to setting those distinct modes. It is important to remember with this mode that you must commit to shutting out the distractions in order to achieve the desired result.

3) Rhythmic:

The rhythmic mode is the idea of integrating this into your daily life, so that you can achieve some level of deep work daily, although it may not be at the same degree as the first two approaches. This relies less on a schedule or commitment of time, rather one that ensures you are consistently getting to it.

4) Journalistic:

The final, and probably hardest to practice is the journalistic mode. The idea here is someone has the ability with a moment notice to decide to just switch into true deep work. Since it takes some time for the brain to fully get there, this mode typically is only done by people who have really harnessed the practice of getting into deep work and have shortened the cycle.


With a world that seems to be moving faster and faster, with more and more distraction, starting to integrate deep work into your life can be a very beneficial practice. Its not a one size fits all solution, and there is no right or wrong, so don’t be afraid to start small and see what works best for you.

What is your mode?


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