Deep Work Part 4: Arriving at a gate.

In the first three articles, we explored the circumstances on how to work deeply. We looked at the physical and mental environments, the work itself, and the correct deep and shallow tasks. We also started to consider under which premises management delegates work to other colleagues.  In my example, I ended up with 22 extra hours, about 2 hours a week. I could therefore not claim I was too busy or had too much to do. What could I do with this time bonus?  

I could invest the two hours in tackling my to-do list. But these are like tides. When the tide is out, the number of items on the list are low. But when the tide comes in, as it invariably does, the to-do list becomes longer.

Newport recommends being lazy. But by lazy, he means to shut down, to stop thinking. He cites three reasons. The first reason is that when you are not thinking, you allow your brain to process all the bits of data and information you have given it. He draws on this analogy. When you perform deep work, your brain is like a computer. But when the thinking stops, it becomes like Google, taking all the bits of data and putting it into context, place, and order. You will have noticed when you have “slept over something until tomorrow,” the answer to a question will effortlessly come to you. Your brain has had time to sort itself out because it was not working as a PC.

The second reason for being lazy is recharging your batteries. My mother sent me a WhatsApp one morning, advising me to walk through the vines sometime during the day. She is 84, knows little about the modern working world, having worked back in the 1960s and 1970s when things were a bit different. Her advice is not new. Much of what Newport has written so far is not that revolutionary. But he challenges us to consider some activities our parents or grandparents thought as being normal. Newport does, however, make one comparison, walking in nature compared to walking in an urban area. Walking in nature relaxes the brain more. In a city, you must avoid obstacles, dangers, and people. It stimulates the brain and is distracting. Being in nature is calming and gives your brain a respite.

Perhaps one critical part of being lazy, that is, not thinking, is establishing a ritual when you prepare to go home. This is the third reason for being lazy. Newport recommends what he calls a “shutdown ritual”. When you leave work, you can focus on the activities in your private life. These take on the symbolism of deep work because they should not be distracted by office life. Imagine your family is getting ready for that long-planned outing. You decide to check your email on your phone. Its contents are not so positive, and your brain starts thinking about it. Bing! You have just been distracted. That has influenced your outing and the positive experience with your family.  

How you perform your shutdown ritual depends on your work and the circumstances surrounding it. If you have incomplete tasks, Newport recommends two things. You should either have a backup plan or interrupt the task at a point where you can start the next day. 

Other rituals might involve checking last emails. You might review the activities for the next day, ensuring you are and feel prepared. It is down to the individual. But, when you leave the office building, you shut down and concentrate on other things.

In the last four articles, I have focussed on a deep working environment, both physical and mental. It goes without saying, any transition from your current state to an improved state is not going to be that simple. The more you work in teams, work on projects, and even have customer contact, the more you will notice that many suffer from the same problem. It has reached a point of being normal. How do you transition? Take small steps. Talk to others about it. Any change is based on observation, communication, and implementation. Plan, Do, Check, Act.

But we are not at the end of the road. Deep working is concentration. Developing concentration is not done overnight. In the next article, we explore the first steps in developing concentration. By allowing yourself to be bored.

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