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Quitting the shallow for the deep

Article Table of Contents

Deep work over shallow #

TL;DR: I’m off social media, but want to keep a functioning Twitter URL. So, it redirects here.

This year’s “best book I’ve read” label might go to Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Here’s the gist:

One of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. If you master this skill, you’ll achieve extraordinary results.

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.

I often feel terrible at owning and directing my own attention. Yet, this ability is one of the most significant factors over on-going professional success and project-related satisfaction.

(I differentiate the two because you can have professional success without much satisfaction, and probably vice versa. I want both.)

I’ve a bunch of other reasons for wanting to develop these skills, but reading Deep Work helped clarify something about why a goal I accomplished a few years ago was so satisfying.

The context: I was working in DC in an uninspiring and low-paid role. I was commuting about an hour each way. Kristi and I wanted to move, and I wanted a better job. I didn’t feel like I “deserved” a better job, just that I’d not yet accomplished the dual efforts of:

  • Being more valuable
  • Finding a role where I could deliver that additional value.

If I could accomplish these goals, I could find a great company, and do that work remotely.

Put another way, if I could accomplish these goals, Kristi and I could move to Colorado with a job in hand. To someone who’s grown up in the climbing community, this is akin to dying and going to heaven.

In hindsight, this powerful goal motivated me to do deep work. I spent many, many hours immersed deep in a range of projects:

  • Who are industry-leaders in the customer support world? I got to know them.
  • Could I show that I’d help improve the efforts my entire team? If not, figure out how, and then do it.
  • Could I add valuable skills to my “toolchest”? I think so. I went deep on Excel, so I could collect/display data better.
  • Can I communicate in writing better? Probably. Learn by doing, so I started writing. Lots.
  • I studied just about everything Ramit Sethi wrote on getting jobs. (Here’s a great place to start.)

And I did all of this most days between the hours of 4:45a - 7:15a. Because after I went to work and got back at 6:30p, I was exhausted.

I’ve not poured myself into projects with quite that same intensity for a while, in part, because it’s easy to get distracted. And I don’t have quite the same audacious goals that I did then.

To make space for deep work, I’m removing “the shallows” from my easy reach. I’ve not used Facebook much over the last two years, but it’ll stay deleted. Instagram I’m removing from my phone, and Twitter - I’m locking myself out of it, removing it from my phone.

That is all. I might update this a bit more as I go, but for now - I’ve taken all the time I’ve allotted to write this, and it’s on to the next thing.