Media professionals work in an environment of perpetual digital distraction. Constant notifications, social media alerts, and emails are the order of the day, testing workers' resolve and ability to focus on constructive professional work.

Deep work can help improve focus and enable workers to stay productive in the digital age. But what exactly is deep work and the neuroscience behind it?

The neuroscience of deep work

Deep work entails maintaining top concentration on demanding tasks and eliminating distractions to allow your brain to work at its highest potential and create quality work.

Cal Newport first discussed the concept of deep work in his book 'Deep Work.' In this book, Newport defined deep work as “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.”

The neuroscience of deep work helps you understand this concept better. It describes the mechanisms in our brain that help to maintain focus and attain the best results possible.

According to the neurochemistry of deep work, several neuromodulators, including acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine work together for focus. These neuromodulators play unique roles as indicated below:

  • Acetylcholine: Responsible for learning, memory, alertness, and motivation. Typically, children have a higher concentration of these neuromodulators but they decrease as people grow.
  • Dopamine: Plays a central role in attention, and aids in shifting focus, allowing you to switch from one task to another when required based on experience. Essentially, dopamine helps you to avoid wasting time on irrelevant tasks as you can prioritize and switch between tasks efficiently.
  • Norepinephrine: Essential for memory, wakefulness, and alertness. This neurotransmitter has a similar structure to adrenaline. It is released in response to an urgency, enabling the brain to focus and take action under pressure.

The three neurotransmitters combine their functionality for focus and to attain deep work in the ever-distracting digital era. Through increased attention and the ability to divert focus, people can learn new things and achieve much more without being distracted.

The science of deep work indicates it is a balance of neurochemistry and behavior. This means that with practice, we can train our brains to produce these neurotransmitters for deep work to help us focus and increase productivity despite the many distractions of the virtual world.

Practical strategies for media professionals to minimize distractions and improve focus

In today's increasingly digital and connected world, distractions are never-ending.  For media professionals working remotely, things are even tougher. They have to deal with significantly more distractions and diversions, including balancing work and private life.

Engaging in deep work can help media teams improve focus and optimize their workplace for maximum productivity. Below are some deep work strategies you can employ:

Learn deep work

To achieve deep work, media teams need to learn the approaches to deep work and pick one that fits them. Newport in his book discusses several approaches you can follow. The ideal approach will depend on your lifestyle, the time at your disposal, and the type of work you do.

These approaches include:

  • Rhythmic philosophy: Establish a specific time for deep work and set a rhythm
  • Monastic approach: Go all in for deep work
  • Bimodal: Divide your work allowing time for deep work and shallow work
  • Journalistic: Be flexible and fit deep work anywhere in your schedule when required

Quit social media

When selecting networking tools, Newport advises media teams to employ two methods, namely:

  • The ‘any benefit’ approach: It justifies the use of a tool if it offers any benefits or if you miss out on not using the tool.
  • The ‘craftsman’ approach: Use a tool if its positive factors in determining the success of your professional and personal life outweigh the negatives.

Media professionals should first state out goals they intend to achieve. Ask yourself which social tools will help you achieve these goals and their impact. Only keep tools that have a significant positive impact in reaching your objectives.

Embrace boredom

People no longer endure boredom and they have learnt to replace it with distractions. Thanks to technology, you’ll find yourself scrolling on your phone in waiting rooms or even at the bus station.

According to Newport, while this may seem a harmless way to eradicate boredom, it actually affects your ability to focus. With time, your brain gets used to and eventually becomes addicted to on-demand distraction. This type of distraction impacts your mind’s ability to concentrate and can be difficult to overcome.

Newport further advises you to dedicate most of your time to deep work but set short breaks for distractions. In instances, where your body is engaged but the mind is not, try to practice meditation to eliminate possible distractions.

Ready for deep work?

For media teams deep work is an essential concept to enhance focus and improve productivity, particularly in the digital age. Given the neuroscience of deep work balances behavior and neurochemistry, media teams can learn to combine the two and train their minds to perform at the highest level despite distractions.

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