The Future of Our Job Lies in Working More Deeply and Intensely
4 ways I’m building differentiating skills in my workday
When I’ve started my new job in full remote, I was worried that it didn’t stimulate my mind enough by giving me mindless tasks.
Fortunately, I found my employer to be a supporter of demanding and elaborate work. He understood my need to work long hours without being interrupted by superficial tasks. In this case, to work on the creation of engaging and interactive marketing content.
He had even his opinion about it : “During my days, I always try to manage my time to make the most of my work potential. I segment my tasks into blocks of concentration, focusing specifically on where I can contribute the most, such as strategy thinking or customer demos”.
In the world of knowledge workers, however, not all of us have understanding employers. Even ourselves we can be afraid to engage in tasks that require high concentration. We prefer to make presentations and meetings rather than actually work on our projects. It’s so much simpler.
Yet, according to Cal Newport in Deep Work, with the automation of intellectual tasks, the only way to stand out in your job is to gain deep skills by working intensively on an area of expertise.
To continue to thrive in your business, you need to work in isolation, manage your motivation for concentration, get rid of distractions at work, and outsource tasks that are not within your competences.
Here is how I got inspired by hard-working people to incorporate these factors into my work and acquire differentiating skills.
Getting Rid of Non-Essential Tools
After a journalist asked him why he wasn’t on Twitter, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell replied: “Who says my fans want to hear from me on Twitter? I know a lot of people who would like to see me less.”
Although it was just a joke, his reaction well describes the position of hard-working writers and thinkers about social media: if it doesn’t help me focus, and even more, if it creates distractions, why keep it?
Increasing numbers of hard-working intellectuals are taking the road to digital minimalism and calm technologies. And not without reasons.
According to Cal Newport says, their radical attitude is not just an opinionated decision. These people made this decision by measuring precisely the pro/cons ratio of their digital consumption. And they came to the conclusion that it interfered in their flow.
In my case, I never made the radical decision to get rid of social media and other means of communication. But I’m prompt to admit the modern omnipresence of tools that disturb our attention with incessant noise.
Eventually, after a naturopath describes me the damage the interruption was doing to our attention span, I decided to get rid of the vibrating notifications on my smartphone altogether. And you should do the same.
You may assess the real benefits of your digital habits, and realize that they’re at the expense of your ability to enter into prolonged focus.
Delegating Tasks Beyond Your Core Competence
The best entrepreneur manuals always contain this timeless advice: “delegate tasks that do not fall within your natural area of expertise”.
That’s not new. A long time ago, President Eisenhower already praised his ability to take care of only the urgent and important work, leaving the rest to his staff.
But we need first to define what we’re talking about. I don’t mean a scientific division of labour, where any worker can replace another in his job.
I mean an organic division of labour, in which you invest your efforts on the tasks where you are naturally the best. The work on which you can focus deeply, that no one can do it the way you do it.
For that to happen, you have to reach that point where you are essential in your own work.
For me, I put all my efforts into learning how to write marketing posts and emails that give value and eventually sell. I also value skills such as prospecting and design, but I let others give time for that.
This is how you delegate tasks that seem superficial to you to people who find them essential. As a result, you learn to gain skills that make you dig deeper on unique projects. You learn to focus on a sectoral or functional skill that will differentiate yourself from others.
That’s the path to deep work.
Creating a Deeply Focusing Environment
It’s easy to keep working in an environment with plenty of distraction and to think that we still can achieve our highest levels of productivity. But the opposite will always be true: you are never as productive as when you are isolated from the rest of the world, in a comfortable office where only daylight softens your work.
Psychologist Carl Jung and science fiction writer Neal Stephenson will agree with this approach. One of them has isolated himself in his native Switzerland for months in order to write the works that challenged Freud’s conceptions on the experimental terrain. Meanwhile, the latter got rid of emails and mundane distractions, realizing that any interruption in his writing could diminish his productivity and the depth of his views.
Yet, this does not mean that you have to get away from the obligations of your work to create something remarkable. According to behavioural psychologists, you only have the capacity to concentrate deeply for 4 hours, provided you are already used to it. So you may have plenty of time to focus on more “shallow” tasks.
Personally, I have tasks that I cannot ignore. In order to acquire the time to immerse me in projects that are really worthwhile, I have instituted rituals in my days. I keep the morning to focus entirely, without any further notifications that bother me.
Create opportunities in your daily life to work on the things that really matter to you.
Managing Creative and Intense Motivation
There is something paradoxical in our ability to concentrate for long periods of time on deep tasks. Our motivation is not really within our control, but depends on limited psychological energy.
So, you may desire to go further into states of flow, but your brain prevents you from staying longer there. It may persuade you to entertain yourself in simpler and more superficial tasks.
According to Cal Newport, you need to manage the time when you can enter high-productivity states. He gives the example of the ’37 Signals’ company which allowed its employees to work 4 days instead of 5.
The CEO of the company noticed that they were better able to immerse themselves in their work under his conditions. Knowing that their week is shortened, they are literally forced to return to high concentration to achieve their weekly work.
In the same way, set conditions that force you to go into states of flow to achieve your objectives. Relaxed and extended working hours, on the contrary of leaving us working time, favour superficial rather than deep work. A tight schedule is a way to go deep.
For my part, I deliberately take my time during the day to push myself to work hard and focused the next day.
It’s your turn to find the rituals that will allow you to build the skills that will make you successful!