Deep Work

How much time do you spend each week on deep work – the most important projects you must complete to stand out in your position? For many of us, we have trouble getting even an hour. But, when you do make progress on a significant accomplishment, don’t you feel great?

I’ve been reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University. Newport makes a compelling case for rethinking where you focus and how much time you allocate to deep versus shallow work. His definition of Deep Work is “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.”

He contrasts that with Shallow Work: “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 duplicate.”

Okay, I am uneasy already. Guilty as charged. I can cop to all the behaviors he describes that interrupt our ability to focus including checking my device in line at the grocery store, interrupting my deep concentration to answer a text, and never turning the device off in the evening.

Luckily, Newport provides techniques that I have used and recommend to others. These include setting a specific time to work without interruption, using your calendar to plan your week, and keeping a list with your top 3 priorities where you can see it every day.

He also makes compelling arguments for evaluating where you are wasting time and saying no to those things that don’t forward you on your priorities. He even suggests reviewing time wasters with your boss and getting agreement on how you will address them.

As I recognize the patterns that aren’t serving me, my lazy side is dragging up all the arguments for staying in the old pattern. Here are two: If I get off Facebook. I will miss moments in my friends lives. Hmm. Maybe I can look at it only once a day for 3 minutes. And, what will I amuse myself with if I don’t flip right to Top Stories when I am bored. Hmm. Won’t they all be there in  the LA Times or the Wall Street Journal in the morning?

I can see that this will be a work in progress for me, but great success awaits my efforts.

Deep Work is a read I highly recommend.

Deep Work: rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport. Thanks to fellow Vistage Chair Alain Othenin-Girard for the recommendation.

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