By Carrie Dorr
The rise of network tools like email, text, social media and google combined with ubiquitous access to them through smartphones has fragmented our attention into slivers. Cal Newport, Deep Work.
I read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work years ago. He published it in 2016. Six years later of continued tech integration at an accelerated pace in to our lives AND the stress of the global pandemic and I am certain we are all struggling with focus on some level.
Research is beginning to show how the internet may be changing our brain and affecting our attentional capacities and memory processes. We are losing our ability to focus which also means losing our ability to do deep work. Newport describes deep work as activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. He defines shallow work as noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. He also states that there is evidence that this shift towards shallow is not a choice that can be easily reversed. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. Network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.
Resonating? It definitely was with me. As a person who has excelled at focus [note- I plenty of other challenges + quirks] I had recently found myself searching for distractions when sitting down for a stretch of deeper work. It would go a little somethin’ like this….I’ll just respond to x’s email real quick, Luke’s socks have holes and he needs new socks- Amazon, Googling why there is a rainbow hue around the moon lately because Ruby + Ellie keep asking me and I don’t know the answer, I need to add call x to my to-do list, oh I can check that off my to-do list, I’m going to quickly re-organize my to-do list. ARGH! Time for a personal intervention!
I re-read Deep Work and some of the others books below that I have read over the years . Four Thousand Weeks was a new read for me and it was powerful. I highly recommend reading. I implemented 3 shifts which have made a pivotal difference in my focus quality and duration and I feel back to my old self. As with all things wellbeing, what “works” is highly personalized but I’m happy to share what is working for me.
1. I exchanged my smartphone for a flip phone almost 2 months ago. Yep, you read that correctly. I’ve actually been wanting to do this for years so this decision wasn’t solely driven by wanting to regain my focus. I will write a post designated to the flip phone decision and learnings soon.
2. I set up my schedule to allow for 3 hours blocks of uninterrupted time. I’ve always organized my day to allow for the different pillars of wellbeing and to take in to account the hours of the day I am most creative vs. most operational but I hadn’t been as intentional about these 3 hour blocks and it had made a big difference.
3. I began listening to Binaural Beats while working on projects. I had used Binaural Beats for Meditating, Breathing + Stretching before but not while working and I am now a big fan.
The good news is, if you really want to do deep work and regain focus, changing your habits can absolutely help. Of course, habit changing takes hard work. Cal Newport actually applies deep work on a broader level to living a deep life. He closes his book by saying….. The deep life is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits. For many, there’s a comfort in artificial busyness of rapid emailing, texting ad social media posturing while a deep life demands you leave much of that behind. But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and gears and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning. I’ll live the focused life because it’s the best kind there is.
And I agree!