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Deep Work

Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Dec 6, 2022
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In a recent post, I highlighted the growing movement for a 4-day work week. For those who missed it, basically a lot of companies have run pilot programs the past couple years and the results have been encouraging: 

After six months, most of the 33 companies and 903 workers trialing the schedule, with no reduction in pay, are unlikely ever to go back to a standard working week, according to the organizers of the global pilot program.

"None of the 27 participating companies who responded to a survey by 4 Day Week Global said they were leaning towards or planning on returning to their former five-day routine. About 97% of the 495 employees who responded said they wanted to continue with a four-day week." -CNN

Companies running similar pilots in the UK also posted encouraging performances: 

"Three months into the UK pilot program, the data reported from participating companies have been encouraging. 4 Day Week Global, spearheading the initiative, wrote that “46% of respondents say their business productivity has ‘maintained around the same level,’ while 34% report that it has ‘improved slightly,’ and 15% say it has ‘improved significantly.” -FastCompany

An argument for the 4-day workweek that appears in most of the relevant literature is that workers compensate for fewer hours in the office by working harder. I think this idea is intuitive for most. A shorter work week doesn’t reduce the stack of papers on your desk, you just have less time to get through them. This fact forces you to work better. 

Unfortunately, a shortened work week is still off the table for many outfits, but that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to working inefficiently. 

Enter the work of Cal Newport, a Georgetown computer scientist who’s also published numerous books on productivity. Cal’s main ideas are simple enough: Most meaningful creations come from ‘deep work’, a productivity session completely dedicated to one hard task without distractions. To do more deep work we need to eliminate the that modern workplaces are full of. 

But how do we set ourselves up to do more deep work? Here are summaries of the main steps laid out in a review of Newport’s 2016 bestseller, ‘Deep Work’:

“Rule 2 is Embrace Boredom. It makes the case that feelings of boredom will be unavoidable when working deeply, and this needs to be handled without resorting to distractions, particularly online distractions such as checking email and surfing the web. Going offline where possible is recommended since it eliminates a never-ending source of distractions.

This chapter also introduces the interesting concept of a productive meditation. This is similar to regular meditation, except the object of meditation is not the breath or body, but a professional problem. This is recommended not in order to solve problems, but in order to train the mind to stay focused for deep work. Personally, I have enough trouble sticking to a regular schedule for standard meditation, so I doubt I will find time to do this regularly, but I do plan to try it a few times!

Rule 3 is Quit Social Media. Cal Newport is not a fan of social media and has never had a social media account, conveniently providing proof that it’s possible to achieve success without it. He doesn’t recommend this for everyone, but he does recommend temporarily quitting each social media service you use, then quitting permanently if it turns out to be inessential for you. He also suggests finding offline hobbies instead of going online for entertainment.

Rule 4 is Drain the Shallows. The chapter starts out with an example demonstrating that most people working 40 hours per week in office jobs are not productive for the whole 40 hours. By limiting the time worked, people will eliminate the less essential, shallow tasks. This is very much true in my experience: most of us can’t work deeply for so many hours week after week. The typical shallow tasks that many fill their time with in an office job are emails and meetings. Of course, communication is necessary and important, but we often overdo it. Writing emails and attending meetings are easier than doing Deep Work. So the chapter discusses techniques to reduce the number of emails and meetings, and also scheduling, so that the shallow tasks are batched together. This leaves free blocks of time for deep work.”

Obviously, deep work simply isn’t feasible, or even desirable, for some types of workers. Managers, for example, really do have to multi-task. However, many workers could benefit from better understanding the trap of shallow productivity and the merits of deep work. 

If you’re interested in Cal Newport’s highbrow self-help, you can check out his productivity blog: https://www.calnewport.com/blog/

Here’s to an efficient Tuesday.


 

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