(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 also talks about how The New York Times pressured 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 how 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). As Newport illuminates in the book, the truth is: 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 is 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 cognitively demanding tasks. Most people prefer to do the more mentally demanding tasks in the morning, as opposed to later on in the day, but it really doesn’t matter what time it is, just as long as you commit to doing it.
- Be ok with annoying people. Not by being annoying, but by not responding right away, or taking a long time to get back to messages and calls ― this is totally OK and oftentimes, quite 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 whatever time it is, protect it. Meaning, use it well. Don’t waste it by letting yourself get distracted. I’ve talked about why you should never check your email first thing in the morning before and it’s something I practice as well.
- 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!
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]
- “Human beings are at their best when they are immersed into something that’s deeply challenging.”
LISTEN:Download Episode MP3
Get Over Yourself Podcast
Brad [00:05:04]. Part two insights from Cal Newport’s wonderful book, Deep Work go listen to part one where we talked about busy-ness being a proxy for productivity, that culture of connectivity, the damage caused by a hyper-connectivity and distractability something called attention residue where even pulling away for a moment here in a moment, there adds up to no good overall. And now we’ll get into part two with an insight that Newport offers from the late Neil Postman, who wrote prophetically back in 1993, he warned 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 today with the advent of the Apple watch. I’m sorry, but I kind of scared that thing.
I absolutely don’t want to get near one and I hope I never have, uh, everything on my wrist because having a phone nearby is bad enough. Right. I think the pension for distractability and I hear people’s text messages, dings, go off reading the news, checking the weather. I don’t know. Can you watch a show on your little wrist screen? I’m not sure. Uh, but it’s just the morphing of technology with humanity is not always necessarily a good thing. I remember the classic interview on Joe Rogan with Elan Musk. The first one where Rogan asked if Musk was, um, uh, concerned about the potential for artificial intelligence to, uh, take over the world and, uh, ruin the world as we know it or such things. And he, uh, Musk, uh, replied that we already are, uh, cyborgs right now, because if we have a phone in our hand, we have all the knowledge that’s ever been known to the history of the humanity, right.
At our fingertips. So we’re robots already. Yeah. Pretty heavy insight. So, you know, getting a little bit of safe, safe, fresh, healthy distance from technology might not be such a bad thing. These days, leave your phone at home, go out to dinner, have an engaging conversation with zero distraction rather than the Apple watch 100% distraction. Now don’t misunderstand me. It’s not a black and white here. You can make a list just like Neil postman proposed a of the pros and cons. So the many great things about the Apple watch, it counts your steps, right? So it can encourage you to be more active. It has the safety feature for the elderly. If someone falls while they’re wearing the watch, uh, it sends a warning. It sends a message out to caretakers, that kind of thing. But shouldn’t, we also make a list of the potential downsides as, uh, such as the constant distractability.
How about the electromagnetic fields, uh, emitting from a wireless Bluetooth device strapped to your body? Okay. So Newport, uh, goes on and talks about examples from a modern day, examples of the New York Times, the hallowed journalistic, pillar of journalism pressuring their top reporters to regularly tweet. Uh, and that’s kind of weird because the New York Times prestige comes from investigative journalism and complex multi-part stories that they want to be seen as the, uh, the highest, uh, resource for, you know, really, uh, great journalistic investigative work. You might say that having a prominent social media presence would be the opposite of doing wonderful deep investigative journalism.
Uh, Here’s another example, I don’t know if I put this in here, cause I’m shaking my head whenever I think about it. But a CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Meyer banned Yahoo employees from working remotely. This was a few years ago due to a perceived lack of productivity. this was tracking the logins to the remote server when they retrieved email. So if those people weren’t logging in, maybe they were engaged in deep work, uh, but Meyer didn’t even want to play that out and just made everybody show up at the office every day. Uh, especially in that Silicon Valley traffic where a 13 mile commute can easily take an hour, take it from me. I was down there doing that for awhile. Ridiculous. Oh my gosh. Uh, the whole idea of rush hour traffic, especially as we, uh, someday emerged from the quarantine might need to be rethought. It’s like, why don’t we just calibrate the hours a little differently, including schools let the kids sleep in man, at least, uh, you know, every other month or something have school started 10, the teenagers need that extra sleep. They sail down the freeway instead of contributing to rush hour traffic because a school population is a huge contribution to that morning traffic along with all the workers that have to get there the same time school starts, uh, ya anyway.
How about some ideas for how to kick butt and become a deep worker yourself? Here’s the good news depth, uh, Newport calls, it depth. People who do deep work is becoming more and more rare. So those who are able to disengage, I mean, I should I start whispering now because it’s such a cool secret. Those who are able to disengage from the cultural momentum toward distractability busy-ness and all that can create a huge competitive advantage for themselves by being more productive than those immersed into busy-ness. By rejecting the pressure to answer email quickly, remember like the, the science professor that was focused on producing papers instead of email rejecting that pressure to participate in email or to, to, to answer email quickly or participate in social media, you can obtain an additional benefit, which is increasing the meaning and the sense of accomplishment you get from your work. In a 2009 book titled Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life author Winifred Gallagher 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. How about a diet or exercise program? Does that ring a bell? Uh, in other words, shopping for, and preparing a wonderful meal from scratch, being engaged every step of the process, rather than texting a for Door Dash and having something come to the door, shoveling it down and getting back to your distracted work or even worse, eating the food while you’re engaged in the work. Oh my gosh. So the author Gallagher says that who you are is the sum of what you focus on. Her insights came from a cancer diagnosis where she was resolute not to obsess about the treatments and the prospects, but instead focus on enjoying her daily life. Even though it was an extreme ordeal
She reports that she felt quite pleasant. Most of the time, you can even use 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 sites, research with elderly folks, showing that they were successfully able to rewire their brains, such that the amygdala that’s the primitive part of the brain, the fight or flight did not respond to negative imagery in the same manner as a young person. So that life experience that wisdom that they gained, enabled them to actually relax on a biochemical level. Yeah, everyone can do it. It’s within our grasp. When you’re 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. On the other hand, when we are constantly distractable, constantly checking inbox and text messages, we are dragged down the drain of negative energy because the idle mind tends to fixate on the negative, such that FOMO and FOKU. Remember FOKU from my show with Dr. Elisha Goldstein FOKU to FOMO, of course, is fear of missing out. And FOKU is fear of keeping up. Huh? So the wise words from Gallagher after surviving cancer quote for the rest of my life, I’ll choose my targets with care and give them my rapt attention. Then she references the work of the great flow state researcher. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and he argued who argues that when we’re in the flow state, we are the happiest, and this happens more likely at work at challenging work than during leisure time.
Human beings are at their best when they are immersed into something that’s deeply challenging. So deep work needs to flow needs to flow. It leads to deep satisfaction and it leads to a happy content life. Ah, and then referencing back on the first show, when I talked about Dr. Robert Lustig’s book, the Hacking of the American Mind and the opposite of that description of doing deep work, getting into the flow state, obtaining that satisfaction and having a life well lived a rich life of happiness and contentment. The opposite would be pursuing instant gratification with our many modern devices and vices, right? And when you do so you flood those dopamine pathways, to the extent that you suppress the serotonin pathways and you can’t frickin concentrate or obtain have a potential to obtain that contentment and that satisfaction. So the opposite of the instant gratification of the texting is let’s say finishing a book, uh, and there are so many dings along the way.
And that’s my big challenge. I’m sharing it with you. I’m with you, we’re in this together. Let’s try to do better and let’s try to engage in some deep work. And I know that making little gestures and little victories here, little progresses, like just being able to close that email inbox after maybe checking in for awhile in the morning and spending a lot of time away from email, especially as my number one, enemy texts and emails. Oh, it feels good after a while. And then you can build some momentum if you get good at it, right. Just like anything. So here are some tips from Cal Newport to get your deep work game on. Number one is schedule some time, actually use your calendar and schedule a one hour in the morning to work on your novel or work on your proposal. Work on the high cognitive demand tasks when you’re most fresh and you have some discipline and boundaries and structure in there so that you actually keep to it. So that it means something to you.
I talk about this so frequently, uh, on the shows about fitness and my morning routine of flexibility, mobility drills that I do without fail every single day and then jump in the cold tub to build focus and discipline and resilience. So you can apply those same strategies, uh, to your workplace and have that structure of you arrive in the workplace. And the first thing you do is grab a yellow legal pad and look at your, to do list and prepare your to do list for the day. And even if it takes five minutes, the fact that you can do that every single day in a ceremonial manner. So you actually have the yellow leap, legal pad in the top drawer. You pull it out, you click the pen and you go to town and you do it without fail. No matter what, if someone’s wanting to disturb you or bother you, you tell them you’ll be with them in five minutes. Yeah. Solid gold, solid gold.
Okay. So that’s number one is schedule time for deep work. Number two is be okay with annoying people with not responding or being delayed with your responses or even cryptic or saying, sorry, I’m having a busy week. I’m going to check back with you, uh, next week. Uh, all that stuff has to be okay. And you can’t be guilt tripped into, uh, keeping up with the, uh, unsustainable pace of social media. I mean, someone’s out there, right? With more free time, more energy, uh, than you to, uh, engage in hyper-connectivity and distractability so you have to resilient against them.
Uh, Jim Collins, the mega bestselling author, Good to Great, and many other books on corporate efficiency and personal efficiency. He sets a goal for himself every year. That 50% of his time is represented by deep work or creative work. And he obsessively tracks this with a spreadsheet. I know it might not be something for every personality to buy into, but it’s a wonderful insight to reflect upon that he is accounting for every minute of his time. And he’s a, uh, entrepreneur self-starter, he doesn’t have to, but he finds that what works best for him is to make sure he’s hovering up at that 50% level. So when he’s, uh, on the internet making airplane reservations or, uh, adding things to his Amazon shopping cart or his wishlist, all that stuff is the stopwatches off baby. It’s not counting. So we gotta get back into the flow really quickly and remain accountable every single day. So that’s number three is to track it a little bit and see that you can accomplish some hours of deep work. It goes really nicely with a number one to schedule that time and then stick to it.
Number four is to protect that time that makes you more creative. So like I said, having that discipline to, uh, everybody knows that, uh, your first few minutes of the Workday are immersed into deep work. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s five minutes, but as long as you protective of your time and then protective of your downtime too, because since we don’t have any boundaries or barriers anymore with the, hyper-connectivity have some off hours for your brain and especially for your job so that you can regain that balance and cognitive refreshment rather than letting it drip and drain out when you’re constantly answering emails deep into the night and doing two things at once. So that’s the number five is having that a distinct shut down time. So protecting your time, having a distinct shut down time.
And then finally, number six, the quote inspiration is for amateurs. Ooh, heavy hitting there, man. You know what he means, right? If you’re going to wait around for inspiration to strike you like a lightning bolt, you’re going to be in the amateur divisions, uh, as opposed to just putting systems in place, such as scheduling time, such as being okay annoying people, such as tracking that time and whether you’re inspired or not, you get that, sh..t done again, the analogies in the fitness scene, the people that are devoted to their workout routine, um, I’m a devoted dog owner. So if my dog is here, she is going to get out every single day because that’s the absolute least I can do as the owner of an animal to get that animal out into nature and express her being as a, as a canine, rather than a house pet, who’s been domesticated to the extent that, you know, they lose all their, they lose all their edge, they lose all their joy for life.
So if you own a dog, Oh my gosh, you got to get that dog out every day. And that means you’re getting out every day and whether you’re inspired or not, whether you got a cold, whether you’re too busy, you get out there just because, because, because inspiration is for amateurs and we’ll put some nice links into this show. So you can read, uh, some highlights about that book, Rapt Attention and the focus life. You can go get the wonderful book, Deep Work that inspired these two breather shows and also, uh, look into the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about the flow state, which is referenced frequently in all manner of different science, including athletics, including, uh, cognitive peak performance. So there you go, deep work. Thanks for listening now. Get to it,
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