Deep Work, part 3 — Work Deep with A Vengeance

By Jon Rumens on 05 June 2019

Previously, on FocusMe…

You were doing silly, random things that lacked value. You scorned deep, intellectual work and preferred checking your inbox fifty times a day. You fooled yourself and told yourself that you were being über productive.

But no more!

Thanks to our golden, magical advice, you were able to turn the tide. The last couple of weeks, you’ve been killing it and now you’re able to do lots of valuable, intense work. Suddenly you’re the star of the office, and your boss has even been contemplating promoting you. At this rate, you’ll be CEO in five years.

Or maybe not.

We haven’t given you all the details yet. There are still a few more strategies to implement, that allow you to work deep…with a vengeance. So here goes.

Strategy #3 — Start loving boredom

Let’s be real. Deep Work is boring work. It’s not exciting and it doesn’t provide the quick dopamine rushes that YouTube cat videos, video games and social media updates give you. In food terms, shallow work is ice cream, cookies and candy, whereas deep work is nothing but boiled, unsalted potatoes. Extremely bland and boring.

Like healthy food, deep work cannot be enjoyed at its fullest if you’re still on junk food all the time, and it is only by getting rid of your sugar addiction that you’ll truly learn to appreciate deep work for what it is.

But that’s hard. At this moment, it’s very likely that you’ve trained your mind to become distracted. Being able to do deep work doesn’t come overnight. It is a learned skill, and it has to be trained.

It’s been proven that constant attention switching has lasting negative effects on your brain. People who keep switching tasks and try to multitask develop an inability to focus and become unable to filter out irrelevant things. They become chronically distracted.

If you want to reverse this, it’s key that you change your outlook on how you work and live.

For starters, you have to completely change your point of view. Instead of taking breaks from distraction, you have to start taking breaks from focus. Instead of being chronically distracted, you have to become chronically focused. You have to force yourself to focus the majority of the day, and make distractions only a fraction of this.

Shallow work is candy and cookies. Tasty and addictive, but ultimately not very good for you.

To illustrate this point, let’s take the so-called internet-free day. At one point, some people are going to acknowledge that they’re spending too much time behind a screen. And they decide they’re going to reduce that time. One day of the week, they go completely cold turkey and don’t use internet, computers or anything else that involves a screen.

In itself, it’s not a bad idea. But we’d like to argue that this is still not the right approach to tackle distraction addiction.

This is why: imagine if you wanted to lose weight. Which would be the best diet?

A. Six days of the week you can eat pizza and ice cream and fast food, on Saturday you eat fish, vegetables and fruit. So six cheat days and one day of healthy eating.

B. Six days of the week, you can only eat fish, fruit and vegetables and other whole foods. Saturday is cheat day, anything goes.

Anyone with some common sense would know that diet A, while probably being a tiny bit healthier than your previous one, would still not be very effective in getting rid of your excess pounds.

Diet B is by far the way to go. Even then, a lot of health experts scoff at the idea of a cheat day, because it doesn’t teach you good long term dietary habits and just increases the risk of falling back into your fast food addiction once you quit.

We can even take it a step further and replace fast food with drugs. Any sane person would know snorting cocaine six days a week with a one-day break isn’t really ‘cutting down’ on your usage and even just doing a gram on Saturday is usually frowned upon in most circles.

Embrace Deep Work by learning to love potatoes.

So why should we have the same attitude towards screen time? Sure, you can argue that daily screen time is not nearly as harmful as daily cocaine use, and Facebook doesn’t clog your arteries like fried foods do.

Yet as we’ve said before, constant distraction and multitasking has lasting negative effects on your brain, and destroys your ability to focus. There is no way just taking one day a week off will do much to reverse these negative effects, just as dieting only one day a week won’t have a very noticeable impact on your health.

Rest assured, just one day off per week will not rewire your brain and rekindle your ability to focus. Distraction should be the exception, not the rule.

So, instead of giving yourself carte blanche and distract yourself whenever you feel like it, with a few exceptions, instead you should beforehand create limited time slots during which you’re allowed to use the internet. Write this down in advance. Don’t just go ‘okay I’m just going to check internet for five minutes’. Set your time slots beforehand and keep ‘em limited.

If your job requires a lot of e-mail and internet use, this method still works – you’ll just have to set a few more time slots. But outside of these allocated time slots, there can absolutely be no internet use.

Strategy #4 — Get off Facebook completely

Our final strategy is probably the most invasive one. It’s the one most people are going to be unwilling to implement, but it might be the most effective one, by far.

You have to quit social media. Completely.

The first reason, as being stated in the previous strategy, that these social networks promote constant distraction and multitasking, and this derails your brain and your ability to focus.

But people like to be on social media, because it allows us to be ‘social’, right? And that’s not a bad thing at all! Right…?

Let’s pick those arguments apart.

First of all, why are people on Facebook? What is so important about it that makes it necessary for you to have a presence there?

The most common reasons people are present there are usually one of the following:

  • You get to keep in touch with people you know or used to know, like your friends from college
  • It’s entertaining and you’re able to share funny pictures and interesting articles (like this one)
  • You’re in a few Facebook groups that are really useful (for example a group on procrastination or personal finance) or groups about your favorite band

These are, by themselves, good reasons to make use of the platform. Are they very good or very important reasons? Not really. They’re what I would call minor benefits.

But like anything, you have to weigh the pros versus the cons, the costs versus the benefits. In other words, you have to do a little economics. What do you get, and what do you have to pay for it in return?

For most, the most important benefit would be the ‘keeping in touch with friends’. But let’s take a closer look at that idea.

A lot of people have hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends. It can be stated with some confidence that most of these people are not central elements of your social life.

Most of them are (probably) not the ones you hang out with every weekend. They’re not the ones you invite to your wedding, and they’re not the ones you talk to when you’re having a rough time.

They’re the people that you’ve only met once in your life. They’re the ones you haven’t seen in years. What if these people were to suddenly disappear from your friends list?

Let’s be honest. You’d probably not even notice.

What about the other ones, the ones that do matter?

Well, you’ve got their phone numbers and you probably know where they live. You don’t need Facebook to keep in touch with these people.

Just a reminder – we were able to have fulfilling social lives long before Facebook came along, probably much more so. There’s no reason that should be any different today.

We’ve discussed the potential benefits of social media. But let’s talk about the costs now.

As you might know or not know Facebook and other social media are platforms that are specifically engineered to keep your attention. They have psychologists and brain scientists working for them around the clock, looking for new ways to keep you addicted to your news feed, your finger constantly swiping down for more tidbits of useless information.

They consciously try to influence your subconscious mind and trick it into using their own version of internet-crack cocaine. They’re the drug dealers of the digital age. Instead of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo, we’ve got Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey.

The cost of social media is that you become chronically distracted and unable to focus on one task. The cost is that (like with drugs) your brain gets messed up. This in turn, costs you the ability to perform deep work. The inability to do deep work and the preoccupation with minor distractions will hurt your career and your ability to earn a lot of money.

Besides that, I’d also like to argue that social media hurts your ‘real’ social life. When you’re on a date with a girl, or hanging out in a bar with a few friends, chances are you’re all staring at your screen a significant amount of the time, instead of talking to one another. It makes it harder for you to be ‘in the moment’ and to experience life as it is. An additional, and likely much greater cost, is that social media robs you of your ability to live a truly fulfilling life.

With your eyes glued to the screen, can you still experience the world around you?

My point is this: the minor benefits you derive from using platforms like Facebook or Twitter or reddit, do not compensate for the massive drawbacks that they have.

To make another food analogy: the highly palatable taste of ice cream and junk food doesn’t make up for the heart disease and diabetes you get by eating them every day.

But I get it. You’re probably not very keen on completely giving up social media.

So I suggest doing a little experiment first. For the next thirty days, stop using all of your social media accounts. But here’s the catch: don’t deactivate them and don’t let anyone know you stopped using them.

After thirty days, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did my quality of life suffer significantly because I didn’t use Facebook?
  2. Did anyone even notice or care that I wasn’t present?

If the answer to both questions is no, you might want to consider getting off social media permanently. It’s even very likely that you’ve noticed real benefits, such as being less distracted, being able to think clearly, and being able to do deep work with ease.

Some last words…

In this overly distracted world, being able to perform deep, focused, intellectual work is not a common good. It’s hard and requires serious effort. It’s boring and it doesn’t light up your brain’s reward centers.

But it’s extremely valuable and meaningful. It stands out in the crowd and comes with immense rewards, real rewards. It’s truly life-changing.

That’s why you have to try doing more of it, and reinvent yourself and your lifestyle in the process.

Work deep, work deeper, and work deep with a vengeance.

Have a great workday,