Cal Newport isn’t a trained productivity expert, but he has the kind of work habits that inspire equal parts mockery and awe at dinner parties. He barely uses his smartphone. He only checks his email a few times a day. And he always — always — leaves the office by 5:30 p.m.
In Newport’s unusually serious self-help tome, DEEP WORK, the MIT computer scientist describes how anyone can maximize their productivity. The surprising part? Deep work requires long periods of doing absolutely nothing.
When it comes to being productive, idleness is serious business. Deep work is draining, so stepping away at regular intervals is a must. The problem is that most people’s breaks are half-hearted bouts of distraction: checking Facebook or Twitter, reading stressful news stories, and similar activities just clutter the mind. Free time should be truly restful and enjoyable, with time to daydream away from the glow of a small screen.
Modern work culture may seem like it demands constant engagement, but being plugged in at all hours in fact degrades our ability to devote real, focused attention to work. If your productivity is lagging, try to step away for a while, even if it’s just for a few hours. Then check out more ideas for maximizing your work sessions in our guide to DEEP WORK.