The Ongoing Rise of Shallow Work – Insight from Deep Work by Cal Newport, Deep Work

deep-work-cal-newportThis post prompted by this: I recently revisited Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, one of the most important books I’ve read in recent times.

There is long-accepted wisdom that we do too much “urgent’ and too little “important” work. Here’s a way to think about this with a slightly new vocabulary.

We ought to aim for “deep work,” not shallow work. Mr. Newport defines “deep work” this way:

Deep work: 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 skill, and are hard to replicate.

Here are some short excerpts (I’ve done the bolding of key thoughts):

Shallow Work: Noncognitively 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. …In an age of network tools, in other words, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly…

There’s increasing evidence that this shift toward the shallow is not a choice that can be easily reversed. ..Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow is exposing a massive economic and personal opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth…

…deep work is hard and shallow work is easier…

A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.

I’m asking you to treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.

Without structure, it’s easy to allow your time to devolve into the shallow—e-mail, social media, Web surfing.

Ask Your Boss for a Shallow Work Budget: …Here’s an important question that’s rarely asked: What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work? Then—and this is the important part—try to stick to this budget.

The obvious comment: Shallow work” comes easily, lingers long, and does not allow for accomplishing the important. Shallow work is what we do without trying, almost by default. And too much shallow work leads to even more shallow work. And that can be very bad for us and our organizations.

Are you doing too much shallow work?


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