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HOW I BUILT A SUCCESSFUL COMPANY USING “DEEP WORK”

Entrepreneur Damian Soong tells us how he started his company Form Nutrition

4 minute read

Damian Soong
Photograph: Jake Paul White

Form Nutrition, which was founded in 2017, has proved a remarkable success story. Not only do they make vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free and soy-free nutritional supplements that actually taste good – the company also does good too. They are certified a B corporation, which means they try to balance profit with purpose. They are supporters of, among other things, the Bansang Hospital in The Gambia with their Family Feeding Fund. We spoke to Damian Soong, the entrepreneur who co-founded the brand with Natalia Bojanic and Pete O’Donoghue, about how he harnesses the notion of Deep Work to succeed in work and life.

Tell me how Form Nutrition came about?

So, all through my life, I have been interested in nutrition. I’ve taken protein shakes for as long as I can remember. But then in 2014, around the time that Cowspiracy documentary about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment came out, I started getting interested in the plant-based movement. And it struck me that there were no vegan protein shakes that were actually tasty. And most of the brands around at the time all came in big horrible plastic tubs. You’d have to hide them away under the sink. Or at the other extreme, they were very hippyish. There was no beautiful, aspirational, performance-driven brand. And there were certainly not many brands supporting travel wellness, which is a natural extension of workplace wellness and indeed, wellness in general. So that's really what I set out to create with Form: I saw a big opportunity to create a business and do some good in the world.

To turn your business into the remarkable success it is today, you said you used “Deep Work” – can you explain what that is?

Deep Work is a term coined by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I read the book in 2016 when it came out, and the concept immediately resonated with me. It is best defined as the ability to focus on a task without distraction. That, in its simplest sense, is the book. So, you work in intense bursts of around 30 to 40 minutes. The key is to shut everything out, which can obviously prove difficult….

Damian Soong
Photograph: Jake Paul White

Very difficult, in fact. So how do you make it work in practice?

The first thing you have to do is realise that all of these tools: social media, email, Slack, are amazing but you have to use them on your own terms. So, by all means, check them frequently. But don't check them whenever you get a notification. In fact, turn notifications off. If you're a little bit addicted, it may be just a matter of you going to check these apps once an hour. You know, there is never going to be an email that's so urgent than you need to reply within an hour. Relax about that. Give yourself 30 minutes without them.

How do you structure your life to achieve this?

My day tends to go like this: I wake up, I have my coffee, I meditate. Then I spend 30 minutes on one focused task and work out, then go to work. Those thirty minutes in the morning can be very productive. Spend two hours sitting in open plan office where no one is paying attention, and everyone is chatting with their workmates and you won’t achieve as much. You have to integrate these bursts of concentration into your day: by integrating it into your life it means that you can work from anywhere. Last year I used Deep Work to run Form while I was also teaching at a 21-day wellness retreat in Bali. The key, for me, is to get a sense of when I'm running out of focus or energy and that will be the time that I stop doing whatever it is I’m doing. Though some people prefer to set timers and that sort of thing. What is important is to acknowledge that distraction itself is not just damaging to productivity. It's the fact that when you come back from the distraction you're not as effective as you were before. So, once you buy into the notion of compartmentalizing time, you can achieve so much more and do work from anywhere.

Damian Soong
Photograph: Jake Baggaley

What were you like before you found Deep Work?

I'm in my 40s but when I was younger, I was a slave to all those little red flashing notifications. It drove me mad, and that was bad for my mental health and productivity. I was always anxious. I was always on edge. If the phone was there and on the table with a little red flashing light, I needed to reply. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Do your entire team use Deep Work?

Form’s a performance-driven brand. In the workplace, we're very flexible in terms of hours, because we're cognisant of the fact that some people might work better in the morning, and some people might work better in the afternoon. We understand that work doesn’t mean a certain amount of time spent sitting at a desk; it's about the amount of output that you created, and the value that you've added – and that can be done from anywhere, even from the beach. And really that is the most important thing: when you build a business, it is like no other activity: you just have to be as productive as you possibly can.

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