On the importance of doing deep work
August 10, 2019
I’m not going on a long rant about social media and smartphones and how these things significantly inhibit our ability to focus on our work. Instead, I’m going to give a short rant.
Research says that every time we check our phone, email, or chat with a colleague, it takes us around 20 minutes to get back the deep focus we had before. Needless to say, we never continue from where we left off.
With the constant buzzing and beeping by smartphones - more appropriately called distraction devices - they have the effect of us only doing shallow work. It’s impossible to get into deep focus if you’re constantly pushed around. Essentially you are always reacting to the outside influences. You’re not at the cause; you’re at the effect.
Email notifications at work are one of the best examples. Every time a notification pops up, you are distracted, you lose your focus, and it will take you 20 minutes to get back - in the meantime, some other distraction occurs. Therefore you never actually do deep work.
Open offices full of distractions - same story.
This shallow work is easily replicable and doesn’t add any new value to the world.
This is why I have turned off all sounds and vibrations on my phone. I check my phone when I want to, not when the phone wants to. I fight for my sovereignty.
I think it’s essential for artists as well. I don’t see the possibility of doing great work while having distractions and spending time browsing social media or news sites.
We have very limited time, and as an artist, it is important to spend that time to produce, not to consume. Or to consume only in order to produce. Just to consume without producing is a waste.
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
Cal Newport, Deep Work
It doesn’t mean to switch yourself off from the world - but I do believe it absolutely essential to switch yourself completely off when doing meaningful work.
If I write an article, I don’t check social media - good thing I barely have any social media presence. I don’t check my phone. It’s just me and my thoughts. This allows me to go deep.
Even if I go out taking pictures, I just focus on that. Now, I don’t have many people call me, but if I would, I’d probably switch my phone to airplane mode for the time being.
J.K Rowling finished the last Harry Potter book by checking herself in a hotel because she couldn’t concentrate at her own home with dogs barking and kids running around.
There are countless other similar anecdotes of course, but the bottom line is this: if you want to do great work that has value to the world, it can only be done while working deep, in a distraction-free environment.
Here’s another shocking truth. Every time you react to a distraction (check FB, because you really need to), you train your brain to act on these impulses. The opposite is also true.
Also, the more you practice deep work, the faster your brain cells start to communicate with each other. Basically, you will upgrade your brain this way. You start to connect more ideas and connect them faster. Pretty cool upgrade for an artist or anyone else as a matter of fact, if you ask me.