“How deep is your work, how deep is your work
How deep is your work?
I really mean to learn
‘Cause we’re living in a world of shallow work
Breaking us down when they all should let us be”
OK for those old enough, that is a bit of an adaption of the lyrics from the classic Bee Gees hit ‘How deep is your love?’
We’re living in a world of shallow work, click bait, reality TV shows, instant gratification, smartphone addiction and the dwindling ability to connect with other humans and to concentrate on anything for longer than a nano-second.
I will hold my hand up to the smartphone addiction, Netflix binge watching and almost seeking worthiness through a fake online world.
I will hold my hand up to becoming like a magpie at work, anything shiny that came along and any possible distraction, I would immediately jump to it, even though I didn’t always want to. It was a habit.
I had trained myself not to concentrate, to feel I would miss out on something happening, and it was an instant hit of dopamine. An addiction to it.
Brene Brown writes in her book, ‘Rising Strong’, about the epidemic in addictions, not to drugs or alcohol, but to things like social media, smartphones and other shallow and soulless things, where we are seeking worth from these addictions.
Recommended to me by mate Bernie, the brilliant book ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, was the medicine I needed to cure my addictions and to show me how to discover the art of working deeply, with a purpose and with a focus that had been almost lost.
My brain had lost the ability to concentrate, focus and spend any meaningful period of time immersed in work that really mattered.
Most knowledge-based workers influenced by their employers or by peers are engaged in repetitive, shallow and not very meaningful tasks, that require little real focus, concentration and therefore form habits that mean doing a more complex task requiring real focus and time are now almost impossible to do.
The people who are able to do deep more meaningful and complex work are a rarity and will be increasingly more sought after as AI increasingly replaces most unskilled, semi-skilled and even some skilled work.
For a freelancer to really make a mark and stand out in an ever more competitive and content saturated market place, they have to create something different and relevant. That takes time, focus and the ability to think and work deeply. It will not come by swiping your smartphone screen and jumping around like a magpie from one shiny new peice of click bait to another and behaving like a human server processing small chunks of mainly non-productive and negative data AKA as email.
Some strategies to help cultivate deep work.
One suggestion that Cal makes in his book is to plan every minute of the day, so that does not mean 9.01 switch on my laptop, 9.02 open email and so on. What it means is take a calendar or a sheet of paper and divide it into 1-hour blocks and maybe even sub-divide into 1/2 hours. Then fill it out from 9.00 – 5.30 allowing for breaks, lunch and time to do some the necessary shallow tasks, but most importantly creating as many as possible blocks to do focused uninterrupted deep work.
If something takes longer or something crops up, then quickly reschedule the day.
But by leaving no gaps, the temptation to drift off into dopamine filled shallow tasks are removed.
Schedule time for that, but do not leave gaps to simply fill with it, as it keeps the habit going.
Switching off notifications
About 6-8 weeks ago, having read the ‘Deep work’ book and applied the lessons about shallow distractions that Apps and social media can create if you allow, I decided to switch off every single notification and I removed all the Apps from my phone that was more distraction than productive.
I still check social 3-4 times a day and I check my email similarly.
The world hasn’t ended, I am more connected not less connected, but to the people who matter, I am more present, I am spending more time on things that matter and I am happier and more productive.
I am slowly curing myself of an addiction that has not helped me or my business.
Any benefit approach
It is interesting in society that we have adopted, as Cal Newport describes, an ‘any benefit’ approach to deciding to do something or use an app or spend time.
All it needs is a benefit and we adopt it. It has become a sales tactic especially once companies have paid a team of ‘experts’ to say ‘drinking x is good for y’. Drink it whatever other consequences it might have, it has a benefit.
Jumping off a cliff has a benefit, free falling at high speed is exciting. Although it has many other more definite downsides.
Often, what we all miss in this process of ‘any benefit’ selection is to start to analyse the downsides. We fail to go deeper.
What if we took our two most important current work goals or our 2 most important personal goals and weighed up doing something or using an app etc against them? Perhaps, then we can go beyond an ‘any benefit’ view to better assess how we might use our time to move forward towards our important work and personal goals.
Simply having ‘a benefit’ is not enough and we’ll end up being busy doing stuff regardless of our goals.
If we are to create enough time to do the really important valuable work, then we have to reduce the amount of time we allocate to shallow things and create time to do the deeper more meaningful things.
Many people who are focusing on deep work and achieving great results in their respective work are choosing to make themselves less accessible, which definitely flies in the face of the advice given by gurus and ‘experts’, who seem to encourage complete accessibility.
The more available you are the more you will be distracted and the more people will hijack your time. They have their own agendas and that is unlikely to match your needs.
Reducing the things that don’t matter
If you have had something your ‘to-do’ list for more than a few days and certainly any longer, then it was unlikely to have mattered too much.
The fact is, if we have clearly defined goals, then we could choose to focus all our energies on the 2-3 most important ones. The classic 80/20 rule always works. We need to cut out the things that will not really matter, leaving more time to block out to work deeply on the things that will bring us closer to our goals.
Deeper work creates better work and as a freelancer, we need to always be striving to create the best that we can in order to stand out and doing things that matter to ourselves and others.