The Get Over Yourself Podcast
Insights from the book Deep Work by Cal Newport: Part 2
June 12, 2020, 1:30 pm • 22m
(Breather) Enjoy more insights from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work. In this episode, I discuss why attention is key to living a happy life, why you are the sum of what you focus on, and why you can find something positive in any and every situation ― even when you get into a massive blowout fight with a friend or family member! All the way back in 1993, the late Neil Postman warned us against the culture of technology, where anything representing technological progress was deemed as good, instead of weighing the pros and cons. Oh man, doesn’t this hit home with the Apple Watch? You can make a list of the good things about it if it counts your steps and get you more active. If an old person falls, it sends a warning and help is alerted. But shouldn’t we make a list of potential downsides such as the constant ability to be distracted from the present moment, or perhaps the constant emission of electromagnetic fields on a device strapped to your body? Newport talks about examples from The New York Times pressuring their top reporters to regularly tweet (while their prestige comes from investigative journalism and complex stories, they still want distractible, low value noise instead of quality work. And Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo employees from working remotely, entirely due to a perceived lack of productivity (they would track employees as they logged-in to a remote server to get email). It’s all because the deep work that provides the real value in today’s economy is invisible, along the way at least. What you’ll learn during this episode: Human beings are at their best when they are immersed into something that’s deeply challenging. Since depth (people who do deep work) is becoming more and more rare, those who disengage from the cultural momentum can create a huge competitive advantage for themselves by being more productive than those immersed into busyness. By rejecting pressure to answer emails quickly or participate in social media, you can also obtain an additional benefit, which is increasing the meaning and the sense of accomplishment you get from your work. Winifred Gallagher’s 2009 book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, drew some parallels between attention and happiness. The skillful management of attention is the key to living a good life and it transcends across all different kinds of endeavors, including parenting, friendship, family, relationships, personal health, and fitness. Gallagher says who you are is the sum of what you focus on. Her insights came from a cancer diagnosis, where she was resolute to not obsess about the treatments or the prospects, but instead focus on enjoying her daily life. It was, of course, an extreme ordeal, but she still reports feeling quite pleasant most of the time. You can use even unpleasant situations, such as an argument with a loved one, and turn it into a positive by declaring that the argument has uncovered a need to address an issue that’s causing pain and suffering. There’s always a positive attribute to focus on: Gallagher cites research with elderly folks showing that they were successfully able to rewire their brains, such that the amygdala did not respond to negative imagery in the same manner as a young person. When you are deeply focused on something, you by definition ignore the little intricacies of your day that are not perfect and can add up to major frustrations. You have no time and energy to worry about little personal slates or busy work that needs to get done. But, when we are constantly distractible and constantly checking inbox and text messages, we get dragged down the drain of negative energy, because the idle mind tends to fixate on the negative, such as FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and FOKU (‘fear of keeping up’, as coined by my past guest, Dr. Elisha Goldstein). Wise words from Gallagher after surviving cancer: “For the rest of my life, I’ll choose my targets with care, and give them my wrapped attention.” Referencing the work of the great Flow state researcher Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, Newport argues that, when we are in the flow state we are the happiest, and this happens more likely at work, than during leisure time. Deep work leads to flow, it leads to deep satisfaction, and it leads to a happy, content life. Check out the show where I cover Dr. Robert Lustig’s book, The Hacking of the American Mind, and talk about how most people don’t even recognize that they are constantly flooding their dopamine pathways, to the extent that they suppress serotonin and can’t concentrate or obtain contentment or satisfaction. So ― how do you kick some butt and become a Deep Worker??? Here are the top tips I’ve gathered from the book: Schedule time for deep work. Block out (at least) one hour in your calendar to focus on working on high cognitive demand tasks. Most people prefer to do more mentally demanding tasks in the morning, when they have fresh and clearer mindsets (as opposed to later on in the day), and still have the discipline to enforce boundaries that ensure productivity. Be OK with annoying people. Not by being annoying, but by not responding, or taking a long time to respond to messages and calls ― this is OK and oftentimes, very necessary for focus and productivity. Track your time. Good to Great author Jim Collins sets a goal every year that 50% of his time will be spent on deep work or creative work. He also uses a spreadsheet so he can account for every minute of his time. Protect the time that makes you more creative. For many people, this time is during the morning. But it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is that you’re able to get the most “deep work” done - just that you do it. If that’s mid-afternoon, then great! Just stay committed to doing deep work during a time that works best for you. Don’t forget about distinct shutdown time. It’s easy to focus on the importance of productivity, but rest is equally important for focus and hard work. You won’t be able to get anything done well on little to no sleep, so take time to recharge. “Inspiration is for amateurs.” If you are going to wait around for inspiration to just suddenly strike, then you will be in the amateur division. Don’t wait to get started on all of these very important steps, like scheduling time and tracking how you spend your time, because how can you expect to make any progress that way? Don’t hesitate, overthink, or wait for inspiration ― just go for it! TIMESTAMPS: The morphing of technology with humanity is not necessarily a good thing. [05:04] Is commuting to work and school always best? [08:45] The skillful management of attention is the key to living a good life. [10:04] The idle mind tends to fixate on the negative. [13:12] Schedule some time (actually use your calendar) an hour in the morning to work on highly cognitive demand tasks when you are most fresh. [15:18] Be okay with annoying people by not responding immediately. Keep track of how you spend your time. [17:13] Have the discipline to protect your time. Have a shut-down time as well. [19:03] If you are going to wait around for inspiration to strike you like a lightning bolt, you’re going to be in the amateur division. [19:51] LINKS: Deep Work Dr. Elisha Goldstein podcast Rapt Attention Mihaly Csikszentmihaly QUOTES: "Human beings are at their best when they are immersed into something that’s deeply challenging."