There have only been a few books that have a big direct impact in my world as I am reading them. Deep Work by Cal Newport is one of them.
I can sometimes struggle with focus. This is a trait that I have always had but that can be worsened by the environment created in running a small business. My phone rings regularly, friends, family, and customers try to reach out to me through text messages, my email box is constantly adding new messages, slack is loud and demands my attention, not to mention the pull of social media to catch up on what is happening in the world. I simultaneously have to do work and have to give my team members feedback so they can keep moving forward on project.
I noticed this was taking a toll on me even more as my work has moved to from more action based work (i.e. edit this video, design this graphic) to more thought based work and planning (i.e. where are we going as a company, how do we grow well). So at the beginning of this year I set out to read Deep Work by Cal Newport. The general point of this book is that distractions are killing our ability to do good work.
Here is the Thesis as Newport writes it: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Embracing these thoughts, Cal has put out a prodigious amount of research. This book explores the why and how he has gone so counter cultural here.
But here is how it has worked out here:
Since this book here are some changes I have made:
- I have given my team and myself to close Slack for a bit of time while working on a project. This helps keep the noise down but then gives us the chance to check back in and see how we can help.
- I have severely restricted my social media access. I’ll check it briefly in the morning to make sure I am up to date, and again late in the afternoon. At first this was difficult, but now I have trained my mind to not need it as much.
- When in work cycles, I keep my phone away from me. My phone is largely on so it does not disturb me except for close family and my team, but even then, my urge to pick it up and stare at it is strong. I will check every hour or two to make sure I have not missed anything urgent.
- I have hidden, as best I can, the unread numbers on my email inbox, and hidden my inbox till I’m ready to work on it. In gmail you can do this with the Unread first format for inboxes. There is also a plugin I tried out called: Inbox when ready, but I worked around the need to subscribe with other crutches.
- I work to block time together to work on the schedule so I have time to do the deep work I need to be successful.
This has not been easy. It requires a bit of training for your brain to be ok without seeing your inbox all the time, you never know what fires have been started. But I would say my quality of work, thought, and life have improved since getting these things more in control.