Deep Working Your Way to the Top
According to Cal Newport (author of a book dedicated to deep work), the definition of deep work is professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Deep work implies creating new value, improving your skills, and making your efforts harder to replicate.
Newport identifies that the main abilities to thrive in the new economy are the ability to master complex things quickly and produce at both a high quality and speed. The quality of the produced work dependent on the time spent as well as the intensity of focus. Optimizing your performance and thriving in the new economy can thus be achieved through deep work. As a result, deep work is becoming more and more valuable in our economy. “Strangely” enough, the ability to perform deep work is becoming more rare. Our world is filled with distractions, causing an increasing shift to shallow work. The list of distraction feeds is endless; emails, whatsapp, instagram, facebook, snapchat, blogs, series, podcasts, pinterest, and so on. Now here is a shocking finding by Newport, the shift toward shallow work is not one that can easily be reverse once you have spent enough time on the dark shallow side. Acquiring this skill fast is thus a great asset for us career lions, who desire to thrive at work and in life altogether. Enough reason to investigate how deep work can become part of our toolbox.
Create routines and rituals
We need to install new routines and rituals that secure our ability to perform deep work. In Newport’s book, he refers to four “depth philosophies” that one can try.
- Monastic: Removing yourself from the distractions of life, like monks do in a monastery.
- Bimodal: Alternating between monastic and normal approaches.
- Rhythmic: Introducing a chain-like method by creating something everyday, such that you don’t want to break your successful chain of deep work.
- Journalistic: Performing deep work based on deadlines, where the pressure pushes you to fit in deep work wherever and whenever you can.
When I was still studying I used to go to the university’s library, to isolate myself in the “silence” room. Turning off my phone or setting it to silence used to be a great way to get some actual studying done. While there was serious room for improvement at the time, I tend to spoil myself much more now. Note to self, I will need to start implementing more of these routines and rituals again in order to improve my deep work skills.
By embracing boredom, we stop the constant feed of new irrelevant information. This creates time to think and capacity to perform more deep work.
This may not come as a surprise for those of you that know me, but I get bored fast. Even when things go to slow, I will try to “task-switch” to make it more appealing. Yes, I always do stuff while I am on the phone. A tv-episode better be really good for me not to start instagramming, reading a book, or Sudoku. Your story basically must be appealing enough for me to grant you my solely attention. As mentioned in the uni-tasking article, there is no such thing as multi-tasking. Even with this knowledge, I seek for more stimulation task-switching away until I actually need to focus on one thing to prevent mistakes from happening. However, I was not aware that I was using up my deep work capacity with these (generally) shallow distractions. I refuse to “lose” my success to the dark side, so expect me to be bored more from now on. Bore me please!
Quit social media
Here it goes, social media is the example of shallow living snooping away way to much time compared to its benefits. Exceptions there of course, the benefits of reading a few career lion updates obviously outweigh the costs of spending a some time on social media.
As said before, I am very much guilty of giving in to shallow distractions like social media. Somehow those photos of frenchies, piglets, mini-panda’s, cakes, cookies, etc. are just way to addictive. Again, those photos can wait for me to get my deep work skills on that I desperately need.
Bring mindfulness to your day
Scheduling your day in time blocks can help you eliminate your shallow work and activities. Again, creating more time and capacity for deep work.
Over the years, I have tried to plan time blocks for certain projects to focus. However, I think these blocks are way to general and the goals are not specified clearly enough. Giving me way too much freedom and time for shallow distractions. As of now, I will make very clear time blocks to make way for deep work.
Identify your small number of important goals
By limiting the number of goals, you will be able to focus your energy and attention in pursuing these. Making it a lot easier to elude shallow distractions and put in the deep work required for you to excel at your goals.
Oh, this is a though one. I am committed to making this deep work thing happen, but I tend to get enthusiastic about a lot of projects and prioritizing my hobbies is difficult. I WANT IT ALL; dancing, learning Java, Career Lions, self-improvement studies, meditation, VBA in Excel, cooking and baking, reading, and more. Too bad we can’t stop time sometimes and we need so much sleep. From now on, I will at least try not to add any more. My newest painting obsession will have to wait.
Work hard, rest hard
It is of utmost importance to rest, if you want to consistently perform at your peak. Research has indicated that resting your brain in particular, will improve your quality of deep work.
Like I said, to bad that we need so much sleep. However, I am pretty sure I can make some improvements by “shutting-down” after each activity. Really freeing my mind rather than continuing to think about work at night or on weekends for instance.
I will make deep work part of my toolbox, starting today. Yes, I actually wrote today instead of tomorrow. Whenever I promise myself to start tomorrow, I end up starting days/weeks/years later or never at all. Deep work is not going into that category! Are you going to add deep work to your skill set? Or do you have other tips and tricks on how to obtained deep work skills? Let us know in the comment section.