top of page

Deep Work Vs. Shallow Work – And What To Do About It

Written by: Lesley Tait, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Is shallow work contributing to your stress level? Shallow work and deep work is a concept introduced by Cal Newport, professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He describes shallow work as “non-cognitive, logistical or minor duties performed in a state of distraction”. Shallow work is responding to emails, scrolling through websites, and using social media or basic admin functions. Tasks that require little cognitive function and create a culture of fire-fighting our way through the day.

This type of reactive work leaves us exhausted, unfulfilled, and frustrated. And when these habits lead us to prioritize this type of work, it can really impact the bottom line.

The opposite is true of deep work. This is where we dedicate undistracted time to meaningful and professional activities that produce real value. Being completely present and focused on what we’re doing for extended periods. Where our cognitive function is challenged and our sense of fulfillment is heightened. This type of work is hard to replicate, improves our skills, and delivers tangible value.

When we get embroiled in shallow tasks they can easily fill up our time, whole days even. They’re a huge time stealer and they’re mentally and physically draining. Moreover, switching from one thing to the next constantly means we’re not performing at our cognitive peak.

So what can we do about it?

After a true and honest evaluation of their working day, most people would admit to spending the majority of their time doing shallow work, the thief that keeps us from more important, higher-value work.

It’s not about extending the working day so we’re working longer and harder. It’s about working smarter, it’s about managing ourselves within the time we allocate to work every day. It’s about really looking at where we can transform our working hours from a stream of chaotic, reactive events, into a consciously chosen schedule, that gives us the time to deliver our highest quality and value-driven activities. Moving away from the always-available culture to be selective and honoring our worth.

Try these tips to maximize productivity:

1. Take a look at your scheduling. When are you more productive? Schedule your deep work into these times and bear in mind it takes on average 20 mins for us to arrive at that deep work state. Save the shallow work for periods during the day when you're less productive or not at your cognitive peak.

2. Turn off notifications during deep work sessions. This includes social media of all types. Putting your phone on silent, even the vibration is distracting. Change your email preferences so the notifications won’t arrive even if the app is closed.

3. Reset your environment so it’s conducive to deep work. If you work from home do you have a designated space to work from that is your power space? Is it organized or cluttered? Is it inspiring or full of distractions?

4. Change your availability status. That might mean using your DND on Skype or wearing headphones to signal that you’re ‘busy’. If you work from home use something to signal to others in the house that you’re busy. Close the door if you can, put up a screen, anything to mark your boundary and signal that you're unavailable.

5. Automate shallow work where you can. Are you using your apps and collaboration tools as smartly as you can? Are there any particular time-consuming processes that could be streamlined? Maybe integrate some project management apps with your calendar.

6. Limit your time in meetings and be clear about your ‘hard stops’. Conference call culture is a huge time stealer so question your attendance and invitations, and be clear about your purpose during that time. Equally, challenge your invitations and be considerate of others' time.

And perhaps the most important one of all. What are the mental or emotional blockers that keep you in the shallow end? Often we stay there because it’s easier and it’s safer. We convince ourselves we’re busy because something at the deep end is scaring us. But that voice that tells us we’re in avoidance mode won’t go away. There’s an underlying fear of something that keeps us safe paddling about instead of diving deep. Eliminating that fear could be the key to a major transformation.

If you resonate with this and your shallow v’s deep work contributes to your fatigue, stress or performance get in touch. I can help you shift your perspective and provide the accountability that might just make the difference.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Lesley Tait, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lesley Tait is a certified Holistic Wellbeing Coach. Lesley helps busy women searching for balance whilst juggling career, family and personal commitments. Lesley helps them build energy, resilience, confidence & courage, and create healthy, sustainable habits that stick and grow. Lesley has featured in Forbes Magazine, Wellbeing Magazine and has written articles and Op Eds for a number of other leading publications. Prior to running a successful coaching business Lesley enjoyed a 33 year career in sales and commercial management.



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page