Deep work and me
For a good part of my adult life, I struggled with focus and concentration. That’s because I’m naturally prone to get distracted. Everyone around me says that I “probably have ADHD” but I’m a bit in denial. Diagnosis or not, getting hard work done has been extremely challenging.
Somehow, though, I finished my schooling (both Bachelors and Law) and entered the workforce as an executive assistant. The contrast was stark. Passing college classes was oddly much more challenging than being an EA. I couldn’t do as well as I aspired to. Lack of focus, and prioritization and a dreadful feeling of overwhelm stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt like my career stalled. Something had to change.
So I went looking and found Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown who created a new concept for work based on the ideas of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.
In 2016, Newport published Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and emerged as champion of a new movement centered around “deep work”. The framework became a much-needed antidote to my feeling constantly stressed and anxious about work.
Putting deep work to practice changed my life. The regained ability to focus led me to produce output of the highest quality and land new opportunities. In 2021, I was hired at Optemization, the agency where we prioritize deep work over chatter and meetings.
I finally found work that catered to my requirements and preferences. The last thing lagging behind was my workflow — I still had to wrangle five apps to get into flow. Luckily, my new team introduced me to Centered, an incredible application that puts together the tools needed to reach flow.
The what and the why
If you haven’t heard of Deep Work before, Newport describes it as:
“Professional activity 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.”
Deep Work is getting meaningful shit done.
It requires intense focus. And that has become hard to attain. Social media apps, designed to straight-up murder our attention spans, and instant communication apps like Slack enabled us to fill out days with responding to notification after notification.
I find it nearly impossible to work, let alone work well, when constantly interrupted by pings and Tweets. These never-ending distractions lead to attentional residue (hindered focus as a result of constant context switching) which destroys our ability to become fully present and concentrated on the task at hand. The worst part? It might be permanent.
The solution is Deep Work: prolonged periods of time during which you intentionally shut off the world to get into a state of relaxed but intentional focus, known as the flow state. It’s been getting steadily more popular.
Centered: all-in-one flow
Flow is what we want, but flow is what we can’t (easily) get. Despite the rapid rise to popularity of Deep Work, tooling and software hasn’t caught up. Workflows for doing deep work are clunky and fragmented: one tool for music, another tool for time-blocking and another tool for task management. The result? An annoying workflow that sucks.
Enter Centered — a suite of flow-centric tools under one platform. An “operating system” for getting into flow day in and day out.
I’ll walk you through how and why it works for me.
When I started with Deep Work, I’d flip on long, non-lyrical instrumental music or cinematic soundtracks to flow. For me, these tracks worked better than songs. However, sometimes, they would unintentionally trigger distracting emotions — euphoria, sadness, excitability that often comes with dramatic tones. Or worse, lead me to procrastinate choosing that “perfect” Spotify study playlist.
By using the binaural audio channels in Centered I get access to hundreds of hours of perfectly balanced audio that’s doesn’t become repetitive or evokes any distracting emotional states.
I did use the popular brain.fm for a bit. It’s a pretty good solution for binaural beats. But, in comparison to Centered, it was just one part of a tool arsenal I used to duck tape together.
Centered offers five high quality curated playlists:
- Ambient Atmosphere: a perfect balance of upbeat and cinematic (my personal favourite)
- Global Beats: energetic and inspiring
- Old School Centered: a variety of classic binaural sounds
- Himilayan Dream Rain: calming and peaceful
- Sonic Caffeine: dramatic and powerful
Alternatively, you can also connect your Spotify to Centered and stream whatever music you like!
By default, Centered comes with Noah, a virtual coach who is quietly observing your work. He’s like Siri but instead of tell you what’s zero divided by zero, it will nudge you if you visit distracting websites or apps and get off track. You can, of course, customize what you believe to be distracting.
This feature really needs to be experienced rather than explained - it’s highly effective and not annoying in a way you might initially expect. Noah will also tell you if your task timer is nearly up, when it’s time for a break as well as congratulate you when you finish a task.
In Centered Groups, customized rooms, Noah can be replaced. For example, Product Management expert Lenny Rachitsky runs a Centered Group called Lenny’s Crew where his voice replaces that of Noah.
The coaching aspect tackles two problems. The obvious first one is the urge to avoid difficult tasks by hopping over to sites like Medium or Product Hunt that me “feel” productive but actually aren’t. Secondly, the coach addressed our urge to communicate. All too often, we feel compelled to jump on Slack or Superhuman to fire off a quick message. An innocent act that actually destroys flow. Preventing this, keep you focused but also forced you to be more mindful about communication with you teammates, which is something we’ve been thinking about in our article about The Half-Life of Workplace Communication.
Here’s, by the way, how this helps our CEO, Tem:
I really like responding to people fast. Whether it’s an iMessage, Slack DM or a good ol’ email, I constantly feel the tug towards responding instantly and pursuing inbox zero. Sometimes I switch out from deep work to check if a sales lead has responded to my quote and that breaks my flow. Noah is there to remind me that this a no-no. People can wait for a response and maintaining concentration will enable me to complete the task at a faster and better. Below’s an example of that.
Auto Do Not Disturb Mode
This feature is essential for preventing the barrage of notifications we often face throughout our working day: Centered will automatically put your phone and laptop in do not disturb whilst you are flowing.
A simple but essential aspect of getting into flow and doing deep work is to silence your notifications across devices to avoid unwanted context shifting and attentional residue that results from multi-tasking.
Centered takes care of this by automatically putting all your devices into do-not disturb mode when you start a Centered session. You can configure this in the Centered Settings panel, by navigating to the
General pane inside of the app.
When you reach your break, your devices will be unsilenced until the next session begins. At the same time, Centered can be configured to display a slack status update so that your team members know you’re currently in a period of flow.
Centered helps you bring your task manager into a concrete, time blocked schedule for the day. Instead of clicking on a project in a conventional task manager (and there is indeed support to integrate some of these with Centered) - the app encourages you to assign how long a task should take and at what point in the day it should be completed.
This approach eliminates the consistent task scheduling, prioritising and color coding that we’re all too often victim to in traditional task managers. By adding time constraints to our tasks we can stay mindful of our productivity and ensure that we’re getting through everything we need to in a given day. This is very powerful for getting momentum and getting actual work done.
Time blocking works great with integrations here, too. You can connect Todoist, Asana or Linear to Centered. Todoist for example enables you to display your Centered statistics directly inside of Todoist.
Group scheduling and Google calendar
For users who like to schedule their deep work in advance, you can schedule a flow session that will appear on other Group member’s calendars ahead of time. This allows you to organize co-working sessions together and also plan out your capacity for deep work across the day. Secondly, Centered can integrate with your calendar to show any meetings you have scheduled throughout the day and Noah will let you know when you have a meeting coming up.
A unique feature in Centered allows you to display your webcam and co-work alongside others who are in the same Centered Group as you. As a result, it feels as though you are in a library or coffee shop and gives you a sense of connection with others (and accountability, you are less likely to stray off task) whilst you are in a flow session. If you do stray off task, your virtual productivity coach Noah will gently nudge you. Now, who is Noah? See below
In my view, seeing my co-workers flowing throughout the day offers me two key benefits. By seeing others consistently in the top right corner of the screen (and you can hide the window if you need) I get a feeling of presence as if i’m working in a studious library or coffee shop - despite being in my office at home. I intuitively feel more compelled to stay on track and to continue working on the task at hand. Secondly, by seeing others working alongside me in Centered miniplayer helps me to feel more connected to me team and less so alone or isolated from everyone. As someone who is alone for roughly 12 to 14 hours per day, having a passive but nonetheless real connection to my co-workers whilst we’re working has been essential. It’s the perfect blend of solitude with cameraderie.
The Right Tool?
By using Centered you can streamline your workflow for doing deep work on a daily basis. Instead of relying on a ton of different apps to set up the perfect environment for flow, I can rely on Centered.
The key to long-term success here is to make a habit of doing deep work regularly. Whether you use Centered or simply turn your phone off and mute your incoming notifications, it’s essential we carve out the time in our day to concentrate on doing our best work. We can ensure that our periods of hard focus are sustained by taking regular and restorative productivity breaks. Over time, I noticed that my capacity to increase the amount of deep work you can do everyday increases - once you make it a habit.
By combining a philosophy of deep work with the Centered app, it’s possible to unlock a sense of meaningful productivity in our lives. Deep work allows us to work monastically and alone, Centered allows us to co-work silently along with others doing the same.
The Trough of It All
Between adopting the Deep Work philosophy and stumbling upon Centered several months ago, I’ve delivered work at Optemization with the most impact at ridiculous levels of efficiency.
Centered is the enabling tool which allows me to do my deep work day in and day out.
By bringing in a suite of flow-centric features under one platform I’m able to consistently and reliably get into the flow state. From excellent binaural music to co-working and effective time-blocking features I’m able to concentrate on doing my best work: helping clients implement robust Notion workspaces.
January 21st, 2011 · 98 comments The Plight of the Pre-Med Of all Study Hack readers, pre-meds are among the most skeptical. They tell me that although they like my philosophy of doing a small number of things well, this is impossible for them. Their course load is too demanding.
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Hey I’m Daniel! I’m originally from Oxford UK. I joined the Optemization team in late 2021 after finding it on Twitter. For the past 8 months, I has worked as a Notion Consultant on 18 different projects. In particular, I enjoyed building workspaces for Loop and Discord.
Fun fact: When I’m is not building Notion workspaces, I enjoy riding my motorbike around the Cotswolds.
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