Working undistracted in a job full of distractions:

There is one thing I love and one thing I hate about being an Online Marketer: Love: Scrolling through Social Media for the entire day is part of my job. Hate: I get distracted while scrolling through Social Media for the entire day.

We’re online 24/7, which means it is very likely that we get distracted by the World Wide Web during our workdays

Each day, I set myself a couple of goals. For instance, I want to write a blog, publish a few Social Media posts and I want to make some HTML, CSS and PHP adjustments to my website.

Then the day starts. “Hey look, there’s a new trend on Social Media!” “Oh, someone has responded to my Tweet. Better see who it is!” “Oh wow, Google Search Console says my website just had 200 impressions, that’s a bit disappointing.”

Then it’s 10:17 AM and I finally start working on my blog.

“Let’s see if Google Search Console updated my website impressions! And oh, let’s check the news!”

…You guessed it right — I’m distracted too often. Sometimes, I’m surprised by how much I can accomplish in a day full of distractions.

But there are also days where I feel like I’ve entirely wasted my time and feel like I don’t deserve a role in the Marketing world.

How to not be distracted?

Maybe, I’ve finally found the answer for myself: Deep work.

What does deep work mean?

We live in a wonderful digital society, where we are connected with millions of people and where we have access to lots of knowledge and data.

But there is also a downside to being connected: each day, phone calls, e-mails, Facebook friend requests and online news notifications distract us from our work. As result, we are not able to focus on difficult tasks without being interrupted. And as a result of that, the entire process of finishing a task is time-consuming, whereas the work output is mediocre.

So, in order to create more and better, he have to get rid of our distractions. We have to find a way to concentrate on one task for a long period. And that’s deep work.

The concept of deep work is introduced by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. He defines the concept as the following: “professional activities 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.”

Newport acknowledges that we are able to do smaller tasks while being distracted. For instance, as Social Media Managers, we can check our e-mail inbox and respond to Twitter messages in a short amount of time.

But what if we have to write a blog? Or like Cal Newport mentions in his book: What if we have to code our website, or write a research paper?

Those are difficult tasks that can’t ‘just be done.’ You need to invest time and mental effort.

That means you have to schedule time for doing these tasks. And once you are doing these tasks, you have to be completely focused on these tasks only.  

That means: Don’t be distracted. That means: Don’t do something new when you are focusing on a task that requires a lot of mental effort. And that means: Don’t browse Social Media when you are writing a blog.

How to perform deep work:

I am currently reading the beginning chapters of Cal Newport’s book. In his second part, he mentions active steps to pursue deep work. Once I reach these chapters, I will tell you about these steps in another blog post.

But there’s one thing that sticks with me: Deep work is done in deep concentration, which means you have to separate yourself from both the physical and the digital world.

Newport mentions how the earliest scientists went to retreats or rented apartments in order to separate themselves from society. This way, they could not be disturbed by anyone else. This meant they could put their entire soul and focus into reading, doing research and writing papers.

Now these lucky people didn’t have iPhones and laptops. But Cal Newport argues that even in the digital age it is possible to separate ourselves from others. In fact, he argues that people who are most able to resist distractions are the most successful in life.

They are the ones who avoid distractions so that they can focus on learning a new skill, doing research, and developing a new high-quality product.

In order to be succesful, we have to set clear boundaries between when we perform deep work, and when we connect with others.

For instance, I’ve heard many people on Twitter say that they turn off their phones, laptops and internet in the morning. This way, they can focus on doing intense, creative work from 9 to 12. They use this period to work on blogs, to create social media frameworks and to write and edit copy.

After finishing their creative work, they open their laptop to answer emails and join ZOOM meetings. A lot more effective than being disrupted by a phone call while writing a blog.

Cal Newport also mentions how some contemporary writers are able to publish multiple books and articles in just one year because they don’t use any Social Media at all.

Okay, they are missing out on the best memes, but they are publishing a lot of great content.

And so could we as Social Media Managers, but then the question remains:

How can you even focus on deep work when you have to be Online 24/7?

Well the fun thing is, we don’t have to be online 24/7. We just tell ourselves we have to.

Cal Newport mentions how workers, especially Relationship Managers, say “That they have to respond to questions as quickly as possible.” They fear that the relationship between the company and the client might be harmed if they don’t respond as soon as possible.

Researchers, however, reported that most clients don’t expect you to react as soon as possible. You are doing just fine if it takes you more time to answer an e-mail as long as you set your boundaries and communicate them to your peers.

For instance, Newport mentions an interesting example of a professor. During the Fall semester, he teaches. During the Spring semester, he writes research papers. During Fall, he solely focusses on his students. During Spring, he solely focusses on doing research, drafting papers, and editing them.

There’s deep work happening both in the Fall and the Spring semester. But by separating this teaching activities from his researching activities, he makes sure that these two activities don’t conflict with each other, so that he does not get distracted.

What’s also worth mentioning is that this professor leaves an Out of Office e-mail notice when he is performing deep work. Even when he’s in the office. This way, the people sending him e-mails know that it will take some time till he answers the emails.

Keep this in mind:

You don’t need to perform deep work in order to be productive.

Because Cal Newport also mentions how a lot of people are able to multitask. Many people are able to do a lot of things at the same time. So do Online Marketers.

In fact, when I write content for my Social Media channels, I browse Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin at the same time for gathering inspiration. And I can very well produce a lot of good social media copy in just 30 minutes.

But when it comes to more difficult tasks, such as designing my website, writing blogs or writing long-form copy, deep work might be the thing for you.

At least for me, it has helped me lift my productivity to an impressively high level.

So Jelle, please revisit this blog once in a while, because on the day you wrote this blog, you’ve published two website pages and a blog article, because you were finally able to ditch Twitter for more than an hour.