This week’s Step Up Tips focuses on an area of leadership that many find challenging: how to do deep work in the face of overwhelming demands on our time. We borrow from Leading Blog, in which the book by Cal Newport, Deep Work is highlighted.
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
TO THRIVE IN the new economy—the current information economy—you need to master these two core abilities:
- The ability to quickly master hard things. (If you can’t learn you can’t thrive.)
- The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. (To produce tangible results that people value. What Seth Godin calls the ability to “ship.”)
These two abilities depend on your ability to perform deep work.
Learning is an act of deep work. An act of intense focus. “To produce at a peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”
The reason deep work is rare is because we encourage distractions by the way we design our life. “An interruption, even if short, delays the total time required to complete a task by a significant fraction.” Deep work is not a priority. We are what we focus on and that is increasingly, the superficial.
Shallow work adds to our sense of meaninglessness.
Science writer Winifred Gallagher observed that “when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.” Newport adds: “A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.”
To fight the drift into the superficial we need to cultivate some strategies to develop a deep work habit. Here are a few Newport suggests:
Find Your Deep Work Philosophy
Here are two of the four approaches discussed: The Rhythmic approach makes deep work a habit by scheduling a regular chain of deep work in your day. Another approach, and the one Newport prefers, is called the Journalistic approach. Using this approach you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. This, requires a great deal of willpower and practice. The Rhythmic approach may work best to get you started.
Take Breaks from Focus
Make deep work a priority by taking breaks from focus, not from distraction. “The idea motivating this strategy is that use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.”
Quit Social Media
Network tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and infotainment sites like Business Insider and Buzzfeed, “fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate.” The overuse of social media unwittingly cripples our ability to succeed in the world of knowledge work. “To master the art of deep work, therefore, you must take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.”
If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.
Be Intentional with Your Time
Have a plan for your day. Confine the shallow work you must do, don’t eliminate it. If you start your day with blocks of deep work scheduled in, you stand a much better chance of actually getting some deep work done. “Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward—even if those decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.”
“To succeed,” writes Newport, “you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth. A deep life is a good life.”
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