We have discussed, more than once, the value of unplugging, turning off phones, avoiding social media. There’s a good reason to do this we haven’t talked about.
Constant multitasking is not the way to do our best – our deepest – work. Multitasking, we find ourselves checking for that email we are expecting at the same time as we are trying to work out an intricate solution for a client. We get used to this, and, as a result, we feel over-extended, tired and distracted.
This is what Dr. Cal Newport, in his upcoming new book, “Digital Minimalism,” calls “attention residue” (so do psychologists). Attention residue forms when we switch our attention from one thing to another. It actually reduces our cognitive capacity, and not for a matter of mere seconds. So, the more we switch attention from one thing to another, the less we truly think deeply about what we are trying to focus on.
And, if you think about it, you already know the potential cost. Doesn’t everyone have a story about working well, deeply focused, on an exciting project, and how long it takes to get back into that groove after you’ve been interrupted? A five minute interruption can mean the loss of an hour’s deep work.
So, how do we enable ourselves to focus, to do deep work? How do we avoid attention residue? Dr. Newport offers the following:
Four Rules of Deep Work:
• Work Deeply. If you want to work deeply, do so. Don’t wait until you have free time, breathing room. Don’t wait until you feel like concentrating – you might never feel like it. Just concentrate. Make space in your calendar for blocks of time in which you allow no interruptions. Fight for your work and your focus.
• Embrace boredom. Concentration is a skill. Place yourself in boring situations – and don’t reach for that phone! Thinking deeply is a very different kind of stimulation – there are no loud bangs, no flashing lights. Train yourself from the first to achieve the second.
• Quit social media. Dr. Newport abstains from it – he has no social media account of any kind. He notes that we need to be careful – intentional – about what apps and services we allow into our lives. It’s tempting, so many apps can be useful. But cluttering our brains with distractions can wear away at our ability to focus deeply.
• Drain the shallows. Meaning, don’t let your schedule become overwhelmed with tasks that don’t require prolonged concentration and focus. Shallow work has its place, and all of us must do some of it. But deep work is what really drives our success, any way you define that term. It is rewarding in a way that social media and shallow work simply cannot be. The process of thinking deeply allows us to be deeper thinkers on other subjects. And – our best and deepest work is what keeps our clients’ needs met, their expectations exceeded.
Dr. Newport also offers the idea that, instead of focusing on the downside of distractions, such as attention residue, we step back – and contemplate what is wonderful and valuable about concentration and deep focus. They are powerful tools – we should all, continuously and mindfully – cultivate their use.
What strategies do you have for making sure you have time and space to concentrate? Please click here to email me directly – I would love to know your thoughts.
Until next Wednesday –