Diving Deep through the Shallows

My days have started to become mundane. I find myself easily performing my job functions without batting an eyelash and yet receiving praise for them like I’ve just solved the world’s problems. I’ve been left feeling unchallenged and spending my time scrolling through social media to mindlessly fill the void.

I started diving into the book Deep Work by Cal Newport and his words actually grabbed my attention. Let’s be honest, I’m not much of a reader; there’s a reason why I make videos for a living! Reading is one of those activities I’ll do if I’m sick of screens and and need a break. Picking up a book and sticking to it can be difficult, though, because I’ll read a whole page without even knowing what I just read! My eyes gloss over, my thoughts float in and I think about the other 10,000 things I still have to do that day. I 100% attribute this to the distracted world we live in. Multiple tabs are open, email binging and phone buzzing are simultaneous as I write these words. I am struck, no doubt, by attention residue1. Trying to juggle multiple tasks at once, with my attention half-remaining on my day job.

Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness.

Michael Harris

As a video editor, I know how to obtain and retain someone’s attention. I know that if you don’t catch the viewer’s eye within the first few seconds, you’ve lost your chance. As author Michael Harris puts it, “Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness. The gaze shifts, the attention flits”2. People are generally unfocused while mindlessly multitasking. Whether we’re at work or at a bar with friends, we always have our phones next to us on the table or in our pockets. I am no exception to this and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t my phone next to me right now. Humans naturally and “automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to them, even when they are focused on a different task”3. This level of interruption and overwhelming information overall is affecting our deeper thinking.

The average worker spends more than 60% of the workweek engaged in electronic communications.

Cal Newport

Did you know that the average worker spends more than 60% of the workweek engaged in electronic communications and 30% dedicated to emails4? That’s more than half of their time spent emailing, on Zoom calls, LinkedIn and other sites. Does this sound like anyone you know? How about me from paragraph one? Working in digital communications, it’s quite easy to become distracted. I spend most of my day on the computer, constantly sending emails, working on multiple projects simultaneously with allotment for distractions. Newport coined a term for this low-level effort called Shallow Work. Woah– is he calling me shallow? Not exactly. He defines it as, “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted”5. I know that my work hasn’t been demanding of me lately, but I’m actually thrilled to put a name to it.

Creating media content has become easy for the average person because of new templates and apps, like TikTok, Canva and iMovie. You can shoot, edit and publish videos right at your fingertips. In his book, Newport explains that as technologies and intelligent machines close the gap between them and humans, two things can happen. You will either lose your job because your skills are automatable or you will excel because you hold unreplicatable value. This is the exact reason I wanted to start Graduate school. I wanted to challenge myself in a new way while setting myself apart from others in the field. As video becomes easier for the average Joe, I need to learn new skills and broaden my skill set to make myself valuable to the industry. In this day in age Newport’s words ring true, “If you are not producing new content, you won’t thrive– no matter how skilled or talented you are”6.

If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive– no matter how skilled or talented you are.

Cal Newport

As I dive deep into my Graduate studies, I’m not only challenging myself in new ways but I’m also learning about my personal work style and ethics. In the first few pages of Newport’s book, he defines his term Deep Work, “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit”7. When you are being challenged by your work and feeling mental strain, that’s when you know you are performing Deep Work. It’s difficult work that is often done in an environment that allows for optimal output. When I immerse myself in an environment for learning, I always gravitate towards a quiet space and grasp for old fashioned media. I read Newport’s words as I was locked away in my front porch alone, with no computer or phone to distract me, leaving me with just a pen, highlighter and notebook. I immediately thought, “Hey, that’s me right now! Look at me go!”. I was glad to read that I was at least starting my Graduate studies the right way.

It was interesting to learn that I teeter-totter between shallow and deep work. At times I will work on my computer and bounce between checking my phone and email, but I know that this isn’t optimal for my performance. But when I know I really have to focus, I lock myself away and resort to the old fashioned pen and paper. I’m on the first leg of my Graduate journey to mastery and my deliberate practice of working deeply is just beginning. I’m excited to find out what it means to master my craft and separate myself from my peers.

Digestible Tidbits:

  • Writing and reading are HARD. You are not alone!
  • We are multitaskers, leaving us not fully concentrating on the task at hand. Social media tools that are designed to connect us also leave us juggling between projects and applications.
  • We get distracted easily, but it’s only natural… ooh, shiny object!
  • Low-level work that can easily be replicated is not going to get you very far. In fact, you may lose your job to a robot. You should think about cultivating a new skill.
  • Deep Work is essential to learning that new skill and moving ahead in the economy. A distraction free environment can help get you there.

Ready for next steps? Follow me on my journey to Mastery!


Sources:

1 “Deep Work is Valuable.” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, pp. 41-42.
2 Harris, Michael. “I Have Forgotten How to Read.” The Globe and Mail, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/i-have-forgotten-how-toread/article37921379/.
3 Duke, Kristen, et al. “Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking (Even When It’s Silent and Facedown).” Harvard Business Review, 14 June 2018, hbr.org/2018/03/having-your-smartphone-nearby-takes-a-toll-on-your-thinking.
4 “Introduction.” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, p. 6.
5 “Introduction.” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, p. 6.
6 “Deep Work is Valuable.” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, p. 32.
7 “Introduction.” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, p. 3.