One of the hallmarks of our age is that we are in an age of attention. Our global economy is based on attention and there are billions of dollars at stake at grabbing your attention. Yes, yours! Whether you use it, to make your life holistic, meaningful or you fritter it away on responding to emails and checking out those cute cat videos is up to you. That is the message from the book Deep Work, by Cal Newport – which I accidentally came upon while browsing the internet.
Newport does a good job of explaining why we need to prioritize if we want to be productive. And there is enough logic there to convince many people, including me. I found the book very helpful and insightful. For instance, the fact that it takes me a while to get into ‘flow,’ a state where you are losing track of time and are actually learning or doing work of high quality. This is hard to achieve if one is constantly distracted, checking emails, or responding to people. It is critical to be singularly focused on the tasks at hand unless one’s work involves interacting with people. Sales, marketing, PR, and related jobs are perhaps exempt from this idea of deep work, but I would argue that most other jobs need this sort of focus.
All high-quality work does need deep focus and deep work, there is no doubt about that. You can’t be distracted and produce high-quality writing, or editing, or even software code. Forget about software code, you can’t even produce a high-quality breakfast if you are distracted in the kitchen.
As an academic, I appreciate this advice and despite my own bad habits of being on the phone more than I need to be – and responding to emails all day long, I am trying to be more mindful. Perhaps cutting down emails to two blocks of time during the day is a good idea? We’ll see if that works.
This book reminds me of another book by Mihalyi Csizkentmihalyi. He is one of the most well know psychologists who has carried out pioneering work on productivity and work. His argument is similar – that one needs to enter the state of ‘flow,’ a state of focus so intense that everything else fades out of your mind and you are focused on just that task. This is the path to salvation, he seems to be suggesting. Or at least, the path to great quality work. Check out his TED talk here.