Alright. Confession time. I actually like air travel.
Despite the long lines, cramped seats, and terrible food (if there is food at all), I might be the last person on the planet who enjoys flying. Here’s why: 30,000 feet seems to be the one place that I can disconnect. A flight provides solitary time that allows me to focus on that new idea, a client presentation, or whatever else I cannot get done on the ground with the interruptions of email, IM and phone. It provides a space for thinking deeply (just don’t purchase the WiFi).
It turns out that I am not alone in my love of highly focused flight time. In a recent episode of Innovation Hub Cal Newport tells the story of an entrepreneur who after securing a book deal took a non-stop flight to Tokyo, had an espresso in Narita Airport and got right back on the plane to come home. The 26 hours of flight time was used to focus on writing his first draft and it turns out to be a great investment. This type of focused worked was not going to happen on the ground.
The entrepreneur in the story was searching for time away from the constant distraction of email, IM, social media, and the constant hum everything else that prevents us from thinking deeply. This shallow work refers to the mundane, day-to-day tasks and regular interaction that we dedicate an incredible amount of time to throughout the day. Deep work is tougher. It involves finding solutions to long-term problems, creative concepts,
and new ideas. To use a simpler analogy, Newport says that shallow work is the stuff that keeps you from getting fired while deep work is the kind of stuff that gets you promoted.
Want more details? Cal Newport has written a book on the topic of deep work. It is aptly named Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World and it is now on my reading list.
So here is the basic question: Do we really need to constantly be on a slack channel, respond to every email within minutes, and always be accessible on a messenger app in order for to be considered working? This kind of talk might make me a bad millennial and perhaps, in the eyes of some, an even worse employee, but I am going on record here to say that enough is enough. The law of diminishing returns has officially kicked-in. We are well past peak communication and our productivity is suffering.
I know. I know. This is a blog and class on Social Media. We are supposed to be championing the benefits of these wonderful platforms. But, let’s embrace the good and recognize the bad. What shocked me is that each time we shift our focus away from a task it takes us, on average, 20 minutes to fully refocus on that task again. Each email, phone call and peak at social media costs us 20 minutes. Break away from a set task 6 times and there goes a quarter of your work day.
Unfortunately, our communication problem is not going to get any better as organizations as social media and other technology companies look to tackle the challenges of enterprise wide communication by applying what they have learned with their public platforms. These new platforms are popping up every day. Just this week Microsoft launched Teams, its new collaboration platform, and decidedly took a large bite out of Slack’s market. Sorry, Slack. Even a cute New York Times advertisement isn’t going to help.
At the end of the day we all want to be more productive and here is one way to get it done. Find time for deep work. My plan for the next month is to embrace the concept of deep work and see what happens. Will the world stop turning because I drop off of email for two hours a day? We’ll find out. Here is the strategy:
- Determine a deep to shallow work ratio that is going to allow me to spend dedicated time on critical tasks, but also meet the responsiveness needs of my organization.
- Protect deep work time that has been set aside. Block the calendar, hid someplace, shut off phone, email, and social media. Whatever it takes.
- Create a backlog of work to focus on: new ideas, blog posts, presentations, whatever is up on the back
- Establish a routine for deep work that will get me in the right frame of mind quickly. Grab coffee, shut the door, put on the right music, and get sh*t done.
Experiment starts tomorrow. Let’s see how this goes. Stay tuned.