Do you want more time with your family or to fit in that yoga class you keep promising yourself that you’ll join, but you’re always too tired by the end of the day?
How does your average day go? Maybe you’re looking at your emails on your phone as soon as you wake – reaching out to grab your phone whilst it’s still dark or you log on to your computer before the kids wake up just to get in an hour before the day gets hectic. Then there’s the long commute to work, a busy day answering emails and attending meetings, no break for lunch and then the drive back home. Maybe you work evenings and weekends just to keep afloat.
A different job might be the answer, but finding a new one isn’t always that easy. You’ll probably have to work just as many hours as you do now, unless you’re prepared to do something less responsible and for a lower salary. If you’re trying to save as much as you can on your journey towards financial independence then that isn’t an option that you’ll want to consider.
So what is an option?
My suggestion is to try to find a way of managing your workload better, so that work stays where it was originally meant to be and only happens between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.
I expect at this point you’re say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before. I know, I just need to be more organised and learn how to plan’. You’re right, those things will help, but I’ve got another idea for you, courtesy of Cal Newport. In his book, ‘Deep Work’ he describes what is a valuable technique in how to really focus to get tasks done. In essence, how to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time and do it better.
If you’re a nurse or serve burgers at McDonalds this isn’t going to be for you, as it’s a practice which helps the creative process in the world of what he calls ‘knowledge work’ i.e. for those of us who spend a lot of our workday sitting at a computer.
So, what is ‘Deep Work’?
Cal Newport describes it as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit’. He claims that those individuals who have been influential in society often practise deep work.
In contrast to these people, most of us in the modern world have forgotten the value of deep work. Unfortunately, in our ultra-connected world, the focus has moved away from this valuable work to tasks such as responding to and sending emails, what he would define as shallow work. This is ‘non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted’. He believes that this work doesn’t create much new value in the world.
Cal states that there are two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:
- The ability to quickly master hard things
- The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
These two core abilities depend on your ability to perform deep work, which involves :
- Focusing your attention tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master. This requires uninterrupted concentration.
- Receiving feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
The benefits of deep work
As well as enabling you to increase the quantity and quality of your work, Cal believes that if you spend your day focusing deeply on a task you don’t have the capacity to think about irrelevant things or worry about problems.
In contrast, if you spend your day checking your inbox the problems the emails present will remain at the forefront of your mind. By concentrating fully on those things that are important you will experience your working life as more important and positive. In summary, ‘to build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction’.
Next time I will look at Cal’s four rules of how to develop and build the skill of ‘deep work’. If you can’t wait until then listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the Afford Anything podcast.
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