We have become a society of easily distracted people. The constant barrage of notifications from our smartphones has us addicted to filling each moment of our lives with bursts of empty activity.
We are taught by our jobs, through mindless email sending and our never-ending piles of busy work, that it is more important to look busy, rather than actually be busy. However, this shallow work, or work of little productive value, doesn’t really offer much value to our everyday lives the way periods of deep, focused work can.
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Dr. Cal Newport explains in his book Deep Work that people looking to thrive in our distracting world must master two abilities: The ability to master difficult things quickly and the ability to produce high-quality work quickly. To cultivate these skills, people must be willing to work deeply without distraction for extended periods.
So, how do we work more deeply? Newport identifies four rules:
Deep work doesn’t just happen; we have to choose it consciously and consistently. Set yourself up for success by ensuring you won’t be distracted. This can be done by silencing your phone or working early in the morning when you know nobody will bother you. Be specific in deciding what you’ll work on, when you’ll work on it, and what you’ll need to finish your work. And don’t forget snacks!
Just like physical exercise, deep work is a way of training our brains to be more focused for longer periods. Deep work must also be practiced rigorously and regularly. However, if we only do deep work for a few hours a day and spend the rest of our day distracted, we’re completely missing the point! Instead, carve out a few hours each day to distract yourself to your heart’s content. Then you can use the rest of your day to work and focus. When idle moments come, embrace the boredom; boredom is good for you!
Quit social media
Don’t panic! You don’t have to quit altogether. Social media is distracting but it’s also incredibly useful. Newport suggests the Craftsman Approach to social media use. Identify what core factors determine success and happiness in your life. Then, only use the tools that have impacts that are more positive on these factors than negative.
Drain the shallows
Shallow work is a necessary evil; it’s a way for us to recharge from the drain deep work has on our minds. We can’t avoid shallow work, so we must instead try to maximize the amount of deep work we can do in a day. Carefully scheduling our whole days and finishing our work in plenty of time to recharge are just a few ways we can minimize our shallow work while still getting use out of it.
To become a highly skilled and highly valued worker, we must be able to produce high-quality work in a timely manner and excel at mastering difficult things. Practicing regular deep work can help increase our ability to focus, which will lead to greater and more meaningful productivity instead of spending our days simply looking productive.