Unless you are exceptional, the bulk of your work is probably “shallow”. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work defines shallow work as non-cognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. (p.6)
A McKinsey study showed the average employee spends 60% of her work week in electronic communication – and half of that is processing email.
The problem with shallow work? Your intelligence remains bottled up and untapped. What you produce causes people to think:
“Unimaginative. Nothing original here. It’s “me too” thinking.”
“How does this bring value? I don’t see the application.”
“You’re not connecting the dots.”
“You’ve missed some important downstream implications.”
Deep work, Newport says, delivers all these things and more. He defines deep work as professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills and are hard to replicate. (p.3)
This morning began like most of my mornings: I started writing at 7AM and pushed until 11AM. That sacred, scheduled block of time rarely gets messed with. From 7 to 11, I’m energized, clear and motivated – so I can work intensely and produce my very best stuff. After 4 hours of that, I can turn to shallow work, which requires far less bandwidth.
Batch your time - Build blocks of time for deep work. Schedule them. Help your team understand why they are vital. Inform people about how and when you can (and cannot) be reached. Cadence is up to you. Could be the first 90 minutes of your day, the first morning of your week or the first day of your month.
Intensify your output – Newport’s equation is Time X Intensity = Quality. A block of time with no intensity will find you dithering. Make these blocks sacred. Emancipate yourself from responding to social media. Switch from intake to output. Stop watching TED talks and surfing interesting articles. Dive into the hard but fulfilling work of content creation.
Nobody sets out to do shallow work, but our culture seems to militate against depth. Check out Cal Newport and use the two suggestions above to intentionally shift from shallow to deep work.