We are living in the attention economy where there is a lot of things asking for our attention, especially social media. Social media is engineered to make us hook and addictive like in slot machine.
I know that feeling of constantly trying to check your social media if there is something new while you are trying to work on your product. That nagging feeling in your head that there might be something new. It was pretty distracting and it really reduces the quality of the output that we are trying to produce.
The questions are how we could thrive as makers in this attention economy. There must be a way to be able to combat and produce something valuable without getting distracted.
Why is deep work so valuable?
During my explorations on trying to produce something valuable to the world and how to combat these distractions in social media. I’ve discovered about Cal New port. He writes about the intersection of technology and society. His blog focuses on the impact of new technologies on our ability to perform productive work and lead satisfying lives.
Professor and author Cal Newport published his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. He defines “Deep Work” 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.” From his descriptions, in order to create something valuable, it requires an intense focus on a specific task without getting interruptions in a short period of time.
The short period is important since we couldn’t really work continuously without draining our capacity to produce. We need to recover as well in order to be able to produce high-quality output for the next sessions.
Some examples of the Deep Work:
1. Writing a book
2. Developing New Features
3. Brainstorm on a new business strategy
Deep Work and Shallow Work
Not all of our task is created equal. If there is a Deep Work there is also a Shallow Work. Shallow work is Noncognitively 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. Some example of activities of shallow work are e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media,
Some people are advocating that we can’t just focus completely on the Deep Work part because sometimes the Shallow Work really helps a lot to be able to connect to other people like replying to important emails but don’t try to indulge on it too much. The advice from the book is set a schedule when you will go to intentionally engage with it and not during the Deep Work Sessions.
According to Cal Newport when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow — a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if you work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity, before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while. That’s why it was important to close all those email applications because the moment you take a glance on it even if you will not going to work on it. It will stick in your head and reduce your effectiveness in producing high-quality output.
One thing that I’m still struggling to do is what Cal Newport doing is the Shutdown part of his routine. Basically, he ends his work at a specific time at 5 pm. This serves as a trigger for his mind to stop working. This helps him to relax his mind and forget about the current work that he was doing. By doing this, he provides his spaces for his mind to wander on other things and recharge his mind for the next Deep Work session the next day.
Changes that I’ve made when I’ve discovered about Deep work
- Turn off notifications in my smartphone so that I wouldn’t interrupt. Some people use Airplane mode on their phone.
- I block social media sites in my laptop when I’m in the deep work sessions. I know I have only limited will power to fight my urges to check my social media. I just let the software block it for me ‘cause I know during my Deep Work session I will check it but it was blocked already and I don’t have the way to unblock it. I am using freedom.to block the selected website and apps so that I could focus on my task.
- Taking some breaks in between intense session. I’m applying the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes focus and 5 minutes break in 4 sessions).
- Still struggling ongoing outside after deep work session. I’m still trying my best to be able to move away from the computer after intense deep work sessions. Cal Newport mentions that it’s important to be able to let our brain rest.
- Listening to classical music, string instruments, or upbeat electronic music. This really helps me to be able to remove the noise outside. (Though Cal mentions suggest avoiding the external stimuli. He mentions to perform at your full cognitive capacity you must be able to work with nothing)
- When in downtime or waiting in line, I try to avoid checking my social media. There are times that I have some articles that I’ve saved for offline reading.
If you wanted to thrive in the information economy you should definitely try to apply for the Deep Work in your productivity arsenal so that you will be able to become more effective as a maker. As Cal Newport says 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.