Deep Work

Regular readers of this blog will know I have become very concerned about the impact technology is having on my brain and the way I work. I believe it has caused a reduction in my ability to concentrate and focus for sustained periods. I’m also wasting too much time on mindless time-sapping tasks like checking emails and looking at website stats.

Do you share these same concerns? Are you trying to multitask? Are you working while checking email or talking on the phone to a friend while checking Facebook?

Two days ago, I took the somewhat drastic step of disabling the email functionality on my mobile and my iPad. This change means I can only read and reply to emails from my computer. I work on my laptop each morning and following the same daily routine. I have added read and respond to yesterdays email to the list. With this change I have turned a time consuming, distracting, energy-sapping task into a single job that I will do once per day according to my schedule rather than always reacting to emails throughout the day.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to check email 150 times per day. I would look at my phone every three or four minutes, clicking refresh. It was a crazy waste of time.

I have just finished reading “Deep Work, by Cal Newport”. It is a fascinating book by an academic that charts his journey into how, when and what produces the mental state to create our best work. He explains the concepts of working in flow, removing all distractions, training the brain to operate at the deepest level. It was mind-blowing and made me realise how shallow my work patterns have been, how easily distracted I am and how I’m sabotaging my dreams by not working deeply enough on single tasks.

His solution is a simple one. We can train our brain in the same way we would exercise a muscle. It responds to repeated practice. His view is that our best work happens in a state of deep, concentration; he describes this as deep work. We are entirely absorbed, focused and concentrated on a single task. We must maintain this level for a sustained period, starting with maybe an hour and gradually building up. We are training our brain to increase its capacity to concentrate for longer. This deep concentration will produce your highest quality work.

I have seen a difference from removing email from my devices. I have gone from thinking about and checking it 150 times a day down to trying to check it perhaps five or ten times per day. I suddenly think to check email; I even find myself pressing the icon and then because it doesn’t yield the dopamine hit of some new emails I forget about it and move on. My attention isn’t distracted. It has only been two days, and I can see how quickly this is improving. I feel a tremendous sense of release, like my brain and my time is becoming my own again. I can imagine that within a week I won’t even think about checking it during the day.

It is too early to say whether I will see the benefits in “Deep Work” as the book describes, but I’m hopeful and excited to see what happens. I hope that you will give this some thought too. The path to reach your dreams and goals is not easy; it requires you to learn and grow, to make changes to your habits and beliefs.

Technology helps you in many ways, it has never been easier or faster to get things done, but it comes with many risks and pitfalls. There are many different paths to greatness, choose yours with care, be open to new ideas and possibilities and follow your heart. Long before others believe, you must believe it’s possible.

Remember, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.

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