Procrastination tends to be the killer of productivity.
Each of us has experienced some sort of procrastination in our day-to-day, and we know how annoying it gets, especially when you have a looming deadline ahead.
Growing up, I have always been a procrastinator. I would leave things to the last minute and produce mediocre results. It was a killer in both my motivation and desire to achieve anything.
That's when I decided to learn more about the fundamental reasons why we procrastinate, and more importantly, why we can't focus on tasks.
One word... Distractions.
Distractions are everywhere.
From the portable device, you spend 40% of your waking life on, to the external distractions such as the conversations you hear from your neighbours at 2am.
Whether we like it or not, we are constantly getting distracted.
Recently, I have been reading several books about why we get distracted as well as how we can enter a flow-like state of deep work.
Books such as 'Indistractable' by Nir Eyal, and 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport can teach us all a valuable lesson which is;
If you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you will permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.
In today's blog, I am going to be discussing my understanding of how we can all reach a depth of work that is mainly attained by elite performers, as well as highlighting the differences between the four most common philosophies of deep work.
Deep work equates to the professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.
In layman terms, deep work is the ability to work on an intended project without being distracted and maintaining maximum focus.
Why does this matter?
Historically, the greatest thinkers of our time all had some common traits of deep work.
For instance, famous author Mark Twain wrote much of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' in a shed on the property of the Quarry Farm in New York. His intention behind this was to completely isolate himself from the world and solely enter a flow-like state of deep work.
Another example is the screenwriter and director Woody Allen. In the fourty-four-year period between 1969 and 2013, Woody Allen wrote and directed fourty-four films that received twenty-three Academy Award nominations, which is an absurd rate of artistic productivity. Through-out this period Allen never owned a computer, instead of completing all of his writing, free from electronic distraction, on a German-owned Olympia SM3 manual typewriter.
I have always found it fascinating when a high-level achiever uses traditional/radical modus operandi to reach a certain goal.
However, in today's modern world, it's difficult to completely isolate yourself off from everything. With instant messaging applications such as slack, and Gmail, it feels like the only way for us to succeed is to always be online.
A 2012 study conducted by McKinsey found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 per cent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and internet searching, with close to 30 per cent of a worker's time dedicated to reading and answering emails alone.
The question now falls back to how do I enter this level of deep work?
The answer is rather simple. Deliberate practice.
What does deliberate practice mean?
For most of us, working on a project and using our maximum cognitive abilities may be difficult. However, if we deliberately slot a time to block off all the noises (such as emails, phone calls, social media etc) and solely focus on the work at hand, eventually, your brain will enter this flow-like state. Which in turn will open up a level of cognitive deepness that can match the abilities of elite performers.
What deliberate practice requires:
(1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master
(2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keeping your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
With everything new, it takes a few attempts to be at a 100% optimal rate. However, the more you practice, the easier it will be for you to enter this level of depthness. Which in turn will give you the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
Let's jump into the four different philosophies of deep work.
The first being The Monastic Philosophy of deep work.
What is the monastic philosophy of deep work?
The monastic philosophy attempts to maximise deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimising shallow obligations.
What do I mean by eliminating or radically minimising shallow obligations?
We will take the acclaimed science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as an example.
If you visit Stephenson's author website, you'll notice a lack of e-mail or mailing address. We can gain insight into this omission from a pair of essays that Stephenson posted on his early website that proclaims this;
"Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don't answer email... lest [my communication policy's] key message get lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly: All of my time and attention are spoken for several times over. Please do not ask for them.
The most common traits that practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have is a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they're pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well.
The second is the bimodal philosophy of deep work;
What is the bimodal philosophy of deep work?
The bimodal philosophy asks that you divide your time dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.
In other terms, when it's time to work on the intended project, you will enter the level of monasticism needed to perform at an optimum rate. However, you can switch everything back on after you've completed the task.
This is a commonality across academics that tend to enter the monastic approach during the summer break or whilst on a sabbatical, and then switch back on when school reopens.
One person who practices this effectively is Adam Grant.
Adam Grant is an elite performer. He is also the youngest professor ever to get a full-time tenure at the Wharton Business School. He is famously known to stack his courses into one semester so that he could focus the other semesters on deep work. During these deep semesters, he would apply the bimodal approach on a weekly scale. He would shut his door, put an out of office auto-responder on his email, and work on his research without interruption.
"Those who deploy the bimodal philosophy of deep work admire the productivity of the monastics but also respect the value they receive from shallow behaviours in their working lives."
The third type is the rhythmic philosophy of deep work
What is the Rhythmic philosophy of deep work?
This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.
The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm of consistency that it's almost impossible to break.
Think of it this way, when you start a 90-day gym plan. Not only are you committing to those 90-days, but you will also feel guilty to break the chain. This is the same for rhythmic deep workers. They've consistently created a chain of deep work session regularly, that it is now an unbreakable habit.
This is my objective. My objective is to live a focused life. Or as Winifred Gallagher writes: “I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.
Now we jump on to the last philosophy of deep work.
This is called the Journalistic philosophy of deep work.
What is it?
The Journalist approach is the more relaxed approach. This approach allows you to fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.
Famously done by the journalist Walter Isaacson, he was known to be one of the best magazine journalists in America.
Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book. This is how he was able to write a nine-hundred-page book on the side while spending the bulk of his day becoming one of America's best magazine writers.
The reason why I decided to write this is to give you guys alternatives.
A commonality I see when reading anything preaching about productivity is a 'one-size-fits-all approach. Which may never work for you.
The objective is to choose which one suits your method of working and implement it.
Try it, test it, analyse it, fix it, and test it again
Procrastination is always, and will always be there. Learning how to suppress it by fighting the resistance and applying one of the philosophies above will suppress the procrastination time, and will allow you to focus on what's important. Getting things done.