This episode is sponsored by Scarescotland Talent Agency
What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
In last week’s show, I looked at The Spotlight Effect, a term used by social psychologists to refer to a cognitive bias - We tend to think there is a spotlight on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws, for all the world to see, but the reality is that most people neither notice nor care what these flaws are as frankly, they have their own worries. If you want to know more about that, please go back and have a listen.
As you will be aware this season, I am really trying to get the lengths of the shows down, so I’m not going too “deep” in depth into Cal Newport’s book DeepWork today, but I am going to look at the principles and the chief takeaways of his theories so it will be a little longer than other episodes this season. The topic is connected to an earlier episode in the season, 143, Time Blocking, so if you like what you hear here, go back and check that one out too.
If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are. Cal Newport
I have done whole episodes on the topic of distractions and the white noise of today's world. Frankly, I find it it’s an absolute nightmare to get things done with so many distractions going on. Excessive information and addiction to technology, such as constantly checking social media, are just some of the typical mass distractions we face today. With smartphones and social networking platforms, people have immediate access to overwhelming amounts of information, leading to decreased focus, productivity, and well-being. This addiction diverts attention from important tasks, fuels the fear of missing out, and hampers personal relationships by diminishing face-to-face interactions.
Cal Newport's book "Deep Work" serves as a counterbalance to the distractions of today's world by providing strategies and principles to reclaim focus, productivity, and meaningful work in an environment characterized by constant interruptions and information overload.
Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Cal Newport
First and foremost, he emphasizes the principle of deep work, which involves immersing yourself in uninterrupted, cognitively demanding tasks. Eliminate or minimize distractions such as social media, email, or unnecessary meetings during these periods. Only by allocating dedicated periods of time for deep work and eliminating distractions, you will be able to tap into a state of flow and produce high-quality output. When someone experiences flow, they enter a state of heightened productivity and creativity. They are completely immersed in the task at hand, losing track of time and often achieving a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. So if you love to paint say, when you get into what you are doing, and time just slips away, you are in a state of flow and are producing your best work.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output. Cal Newport
And before I move on let me just add that shallow work is non-brain intensive, logistical-style work, often performed while distracted. He is describing tasks that are relatively easy and low-value. Shallow work typically involves activities that are often logistical, administrative, or repetitive in nature. These tasks tend to be more transactional and do not directly contribute to deep thinking, creativity, or the accomplishment of important goals.
This would include activities such as email management, administrative tasks, responding to non-urgent messages, attending unproductive meetings, or engaging in excessive multitasking. These activities often demand less focused attention and can be easily disrupted or accomplished in a fragmented manner.
Cal Newport highlights the potential danger of excessive shallow work, as it can dominate one's time and attention, leaving less room for deep, concentrated work that produces high-quality output and significant results. He argues that in an era of constant distractions and information overload, prioritizing deep work and minimizing shallow work is crucial for individuals to excel in their professional and personal pursuits. He also warns that if you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.
People need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another. Yet, results indicate it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Cal Newport.
Cal Newport also introduces the Principle of Attention Residue, highlighting how frequent task-switching and distractions will hinder your performance. He encourages minimizing these distractions and creating an environment that supports deep work, enabling individuals to concentrate on their most important tasks without constant interruptions. Newport urges us to be aware of the lingering effects of switching tasks and distractions on our focus and cognitive performance. He asks us to minimize task-switching by batching similar tasks together and setting boundaries around interruptions. Create an environment that supports deep work by setting clear expectations with colleagues or finding a secluded space where distractions are reduced.
[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants. Cal Newport
Thirdly, Newport suggests the Principle of Embracing Boredom as a catalyst for deep thinking and creativity. He says that by resisting the urge to constantly seek distraction and engaging in productive meditation, individuals can harness moments of mental restlessness to generate valuable insights and breakthroughs. You must therefor train your mind to tolerate and leverage boredom as a catalyst for deep thinking and creativity. Use these moments to engage in productive meditation, where you focus on a problem or topic while engaging in a low-demanding physical activity.
I’ve covered this principle to an extent in the episode swim for your life, but heading to the gym or taking the dog for a walk would be equally good opportunities to double up on physical activity and seek the valuable insights you are looking for. Fellow filmmaker and podcaster Gary Hewitt of the Choose Film Podcast mentioned to me the other day that he also uses swimming as an opportunity to get his mind together. You should try it.
Cal Newport's book serves as a guide for individuals to re-evaluate their relationship with technology, particularly in terms of social media and digital communication. By setting boundaries, establishing routines, and adopting mindful practices, readers can regain control over their attention and combat the addictive pull of technology, ultimately fostering deeper focus, productivity, and more fulfilling work.
So that’s the three main principles but how can you implement them? Here’s a few ideas to get you going.
Identify high-value tasks: Determine which tasks require deep work and allocate specific time slots for them. Prioritize these tasks over shallow, low-value activities.
Establish routines: Build a consistent routine that incorporates regular deep work sessions. Create a schedule that blocks off dedicated time for focused, uninterrupted work. I refer you again to episode 143 on Time Blocking.
Optimize your environment: Minimize distractions in your physical and digital environment. Turn off notifications, use website blockers, or find a quiet space where you can work without interruptions. This as I mentioned before ill also involve setting out clear boundaries with colleagues.
Practice deep work rituals: Develop rituals or habits that signal your brain it's time to enter deep work mode. For example, having a designated workspace, setting specific goals for each session, or implementing a warm-up routine. Cal also recommends that once you've completed a session of deep work, you take a deep break. These are designed to give you a cognitive breather without introducing new distractions or stresses, so you can also use deep breaks to create healthy pauses throughout longer deep work sessions. I’d add to this that you should develop a ritual of completion at the end of a day. Checking emails and shutting down your computer, switching off everything physically and mentally before finishing for the day.
Reflect and refine: Continuously evaluate and adjust your deep work strategies. Reflect on what works best for you, experiment with different techniques, and make necessary adjustments based on your productivity and focus levels.
By implementing these principles and strategies, you can create an environment and mindset that supports deep work, leading to enhanced productivity, higher-quality output, and a greater sense of fulfillment in your day-to-day work and life.
Cal Newport calls deep work, “the superpower of the 21st century.” It provides practical strategies and principles that help individuals counter the distractions of today's world. By prioritizing deep work, minimizing distractions, embracing boredom, and cultivating mindful practices, you can navigate the modern landscape of information overload and achieve a higher level of productivity, focus, and satisfaction in your work and life.
So that’s Deep Work. I hope you enjoyed it. Learned from it. I’ll give you a call to action today, and it’s simply this. Take a minute to write down the three principles I’ve brought to you today. They were:
The Principle of deep work
The Principle of Attention Residue
The Principle of Embracing Boredom
And a few words explaining each one of them. Let these principles influence you as you move forward with productivity.
I’ll end now with some final words from Cal Newport who said - Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.
Now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!
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Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
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