Technology is changing our lives in the world we live in today. We are continuously bombarded by stimuli from every direction:
We have non-stop flows of emails coming at us, co-workers stopping for the talk, unproductive meetings, facebook pings and notifications interrupting us.
Whenever we need to sit down and get some work done, we are continuously assaulted by things that are URGENT but not IMPORTANT. Things we feel compelled to do but in reality isn’t a make-or-break activity and it’s taking us away and what can actually lead us to be SUCCESSFUL.
Today, we live in a world that is (sadly) measured on our ability to LOOK BUSY as opposed to our ability to actually get things done.
When we look busy, we appear to be irreplaceable but the reality is that with technological advances (especially Artificial Intelligence) more and more people are able to have their jobs outsourced overseas or to be replaced by machines altogether.
So you would be thinking that how to get ahead in today’s economy?
The answer is Deep Work.
Deep Work is defined 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.
Deep work is the exact opposite of Shallow work, which can be defined as non-cognitively demanding logistical style tasks often performed while distracted these efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. Most of the work we do on the day to day is shallow work, it’s not that important
I recently read the book Deep Work by author “Cal Newport” which defines deep work. Cal, an MIT graduate and Georgetown professor, claims that deep work allowed him to double his output of research papers while raising a family writing this book and teaching full-time at a prestigious university. Cal shows that we can maintain a busy schedule, and still find ways to do deep work, and produce significant results in our lives, that others find hard to replicate.
But, how exactly does deep work lead to these best-selling books, innovative products, and Elite levels of productivity?
Well, neuroscientists have found that intense periods of focus in isolated fields of work causes Myelin to develop in relevant areas of the brain. Myelin is a white issue that develops around neurons and allows brain cells to fire faster and cleaner. So, in a sense when we practice deep work, we upgrade our brains and allow specific brain circuits to fire more effortlessly, and effectively. The brain upgrade we get from deep work allows you to rapidly connect ideas and uncover creative solutions in today’s economy.
The ability to do deep work is increasingly valuable an increasingly rare. It’s valuable because when you produce something great in our hyper-connected world, it has the ability to spread to billions of people producing something great, and is necessary to stand out amongst the noise and avoid being forgotten by the flood of information that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Think of your last tweet, how long did it last? how quickly was it forgotten?
Deep work is becoming increasingly rare because deep work requires undivided attention and our world is being filled with more and more tempting distractions so the ability to do deep work is becoming increasingly difficult. Coworkers expect you to immediately respond to an email or an instant message employers want you to function in an open office concept of constant distraction, your friends and followers online expect you to maintain a social media presence.
It’s not enough to try to ignore these distractions. We are hardwired to be distracted and pay attention to novelty. In a 2012 a study, led by psychologists Wilhelm Hoffman and Roy Baumeister, involving 205 adults found that, we are only able to resist temptations to take a break from work to check email, surf the web or watch TV just fifty percent of the time. But there is hope, you can build a scale of deep work and escape the trap of constant distraction thus separating you from the pack and making you indispensable in today’s economy.
Here are three deep work strategies that you can incorporate into your schedule to heighten your ability to focus and produce results that are hard to replicate:
1. Schedule your distraction periods at home and at work
Most of us allow ourselves to go online at any moment and check our phone whenever buzzes but doing so was training your brain to avoid deep work. A day full of unscheduled distraction is training your brain to give in to any and all distractions to build your tolerance to avoid distraction you need to place boundaries on your distract. Have a notepad nearby and put down the next distraction break you’ll have hold your focus until that time. At first, it’s going to be painful but remember that doing this is effectively doing this repetitively that build your ability to concentrate.
2. Develop a rhythmic deep work ritual
Cal says the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. Cal uses several examples in the book to show that scheduling chunks of deep focus in an ad-hoc manner doesn’t yield much productivity at all.
For people who are not seasoned at doing deep work, it’s best for them to have a reoccurring time each day or each week to go into deep work. Early morning is typically the best time to do this because at that time you typically don’t have to deal with incoming requests. The research shows that people new to deep work can typically only do it for about one hour and masters of deep work can typically only hold their attention up to four hours in intervals between 60 and 90 minutes throughout the day.
So the ultimate goal of each day is to plant deep work rituals throughout the day with the ultimate goal of building up the sum of your deep work practices 24 hours a day.
3. A daily shutdown ritual
Complete ritual sleep is the price we need to pay in order to do deep work. It’s the interest we pay on the loans of intense focus required to do deep work to ensure that we get adequate sleep and restore our attentional reserves for the following day. Cal recommends that we incorporate an evening shut down into our daily routine. An evening shutdown ritual involves making a plan to complete any unfinished tasks goals or projects the following day getting a series of steps lined out for the following day is enough to get items off your mind so you can disconnect for the rest of the day.
When you get things off your mind you restore the ability to sleep well and do deep work the following day. After Cal completes his plan for the following day, he will say to himself shut down complete it’s pretty cheesy but he says it’s a great cue to unplug in the end.
Deep work is incredibly valuable because it changes your brain and allows you to produce innovative work that is hard to replicate.
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport, http://amzn.in/1pQo5O7
- The Organised Mind, Daniel J Levitin, http://amzn.in/2A6uGtb
- The Productivity Project: Proven Ways to Become More Awesome, Chris Bailey, http://amzn.in/16RY960