My routine while I was working on my undergraduate degree:
- Write a sentence
- Check Facebook
- Write a sentence
- Check Instagram
- Write a sentence
- Retweet something witty
I used to complain that I had a challenging time completing my work but really, I was constricting myself repeatedly without realizing it. Fragmenting your attention is detrimental to productivity.
In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, he writes about the way he practices increased focus and productivity in his academic and personal life. In the book, he outlined four distinct sections—ones that if you can master, your productivity will reach new levels.
- Work Deeply
- Embrace Boredom
- Quit Social Media
- Drain the Shallows
Newport defined Deep Work as a constant and thorough stream of concentration. Involving yourself in Deep Work isn’t as simple as sitting down and writing your boring essay or completing your economics homework. Deep Work is about getting yourself so involved in what you’re doing that you focus as much brain power as possible on it, while allowing no outside stimulus to bring you out of it. Newport argues that Deep Work takes a long time to master, and it’s good to practice for an hour a day to become completely submerged in your work. A big part of practicing Deep Work is putting yourself in an environment where you’ll have an easier time to succeed. Doing homework in your dorm room while your roommate plays Madden ’18 is not a distraction-free zone. Find yourself a quiet location where you have your books and resources prepared, a coffee at the ready, and your phone out of reach. You’ll realize that without distraction your work will get done much faster, but more importantly—it’ll be thorough and well-thought out.
In this section of the book, Newport argues that most people refuse to be bored any longer. If you’re standing in line at the grocery store—what do you do? What do you do while pumping gas? While in-between sets at the gym? Many people (including myself) will answer the same way, “I take out my phone.” The inability to embrace your boredom brings you back to the same three social media platforms of your choosing.
Do you need to look at it? No.
Do I want to look at it? Yes.
Do I have a problem? Of course not.
Most people hang onto their phones because they are afraid of missing out on something. NBA player gets traded, Trump says something shocking, or a friend posts a picture of their baby. If you’re not on social media, you miss these latest developments. Newport argues that being out of the loop isn’t a reason to hold on to your social media obsession. Those people that are important in your life will always keep in touch. The fact that someone you went to high school with had a baby shouldn’t be all that relevant to your own life.
Instead, you should be using your line-standing time to be thinking of things important to your own life. Planning your weekend camping trip in your head, thinking about an idea you can pitch to your boss, or what you’ll make for dinner are arguably better uses of your time.
Quit Social Media
Already an obvious trend throughout this post, Newport suggests getting off social media. If you’d like to know his stance at a more complex level, check out this Ted Talk that he did on the topic. Social media is addicting. Most of the time I am scrolling through it is because of habit, straight impulse, or a distraction to get away from something I don’t want to do. It’s a time waster. Unfortunately for me, it’s become an obsession at times. We join all these social media platforms to get with the times and not feel behind, but often by involving ourselves in platforms we are taking away from developing ourselves in a productive way.
Newport tell the readers to quit social media for a month and themselves ask themselves two questions.
- Would the past 30 days would’ve been better if you had been able to use the service?
- Did people care that you weren’t using the service?
If you answer “No” for both questions, you should get off social media permanently. If you don’t truly need it, and people don’t rely on you for it, it’s probably something you don’t need to spend your time on.
I tested a month without social media and it was difficult. However, towards the third and fourth week it got significantly easier. Like many other addictions, weaning off slowly is probably the best way to do it, but going cold turkey won’t hurt you.
In short: if you are more productive and happy without it, stop using it.
Drain the Shallows
“The shallows” refer to the work you complete in your daily/professional life that requires little thought or energy. Answering emails, scheduling conference calls, or making a useless PowerPoint presentations for a meeting you’re in are all examples of shallow work. Newport argues you need to “drain the shallows” and focus most of your time on complex thinking and work projects. This is the sections of the book that is difficult for a lot of readers to grasp. For me, most of my job revolves around information gathered through email. If I’m ignoring emails to work on a project that I also think will help the company, I’m not sure if I’ve made the right decision at the end of the day.
Newport talked about college professors that put an out of office on their email, even though they’re sitting at their desk. They are taking part in deep work that will help their professional and academic lives instead of taking time out of their day to focus on menial tasks. Depending on how much your job description relies on menial tasks, this may not work for you.
Though I’ve briefly summarized the book, I encourage anyone reading this blog to read Newport’s book. While it might not be relevant to your personal or work life, I think there are some interesting ideas to take away from reading it.
For those just interested in reading the blog post and commenting–what did you think of the points I laid out? Would this work for you? Is social media more than a time waster for you? Do you already practice deep work daily? Let me know in comments.
PS. If you’re interesting in giving the no social media challenge a go, let me know! Of course blogging isn’t social media…right?