Hope you’re all doing well!
If you’re anything like me, you sit down with the intention of getting some work done and then before you know it, you’re tempted to check your phone and then once you grab your phone, its hard to put it down!
Even if you’re focusing on your work, you may hear or see a constant string of notifications or messages and you may then be tempted to respond and in many cases you do stop working and respond to these notifications or messages.
Unfortunately, every time we respond to an email/text or every time we google something while we are working on a cognitively demanding task, we pay a small price. In the moment we may not notice the price but overtime, it adds up. Basically, every time we are distracted by technology, it takes us longer to go back to being focused on the task we were working on and overtime this affects our creativity and it prevents us from reaching our cognitive potential. This phenomenon is known as attention residue.
Social scientists have tested this idea of attention residue in their labs. They gave their subject a task to do and then at some point they distract the subject by briefly making them look at something else, etc. When they then turn back to the cognitively demanding task , their performance decreases and it drops for a while.
I was recently listening to a podcast interview with Cal Newport, who is a computer science professor at Georgetown University. He has come up with the concept of deep work.
Deep work is an almost flow like state of work where we are only focused and concentrated on our work without letting anything distract us.
Cal Newport has written a book on deep work and in the podcast, he gave some of the following suggestions for how we can achieve deep and meaningful work:
Limit Social Media:
Newport claims that he has never had a social media account. He is not necessarily completely against the idea of social media, its just that he feels if he were to have a social media account it would take too much of his time.
For me personally, as a blogger and as someone who has family all over the world, social media is very important and I don’t plan on giving it up. In order to avoid wasting too much time on social media I would suggest choosing a specific part(s) of the day where you can check social media and I would suggest setting up a time limit as well.
Organizing Your Time:
Before starting your work, its important to create a daily schedule in which you plan out your day. Newport mentions that he works during very set hours during the day. One point that really resonated with me is that he mentioned: “I don’t let my mood dictate how my day unfolds”. Newport also mentions that great creative thinkers approach their time like accountants. They’re very structured and systematic with their time and they produce the most unstructured creative works.
Being Comfortable with Annoying People:
Okay, so this is one of the hardest tips for me to apply to my own life because when someone reaches out to contact me I almost always try to reply as soon as possible. Newport explains that he is someone who is very bad at responding back to others and he has set this expectation that he is simply unavailable most of the time. He admits that this has occasionally become a problem for him but ultimately it allows him to have a lot of time to focus on his deep work.
Although this tip may not be applicable to everyone’s lives I do think that taking the time to reply to texts, emails, comments, etc. should be incorporated into our daily schedule. By setting up a specific time we can still be social without damaging our work concentration.
Ratio of Deep Work vs. Shallow Work:
Not everyone works in a profession where they can dedicate long hours to deep work. Newport suggests talking to your boss or supervisor explaining to them what deep work is and then asking them how much time you should dedicate to deep work and eventually once your work is optimized your boss will see the benefits and this could potentially improve the workplace culture.
Reconfiguring Peoples Expectations and Channels of Communication:
You might be wondering, when you’re in deep work what happens if there is an emergency were someone needs to reach you? Or, what happens if you work in a very client-based environment. Newport suggests that some effort and creativity need to be used in order come up with different ways of communicating. For example, this can include creating an emergency number or a client email with someone there to respond at all times.
At the end of every work day it is absolutely vital to stop working and spend plenty of time relaxing and unwinding, with your family or however you choose to unwind. Sometimes, even after we have stopped working, its difficult to stop thinking about work. Newport suggests coming up with a mantra to help you stop thinking about work. Newport admits that his mantra: “Schedule Shutdown Complete” is slightly nerdy but it works for him.
Benefits of Deep Work:
Deep work and the ability to really focus on the current task is important to students and to many people who work in a knowledge-based economy where most workers rely more on their brain than their physical body for their jobs.
Deep work can also add meaning and joy to our lives. Studies have shown that people who are engaged in deep work end up being happier. People who spend a lot of their professional time concentrating on their work tend to enjoy their work more.