This past week has been amazing and at the same time shattering. I don’t know about you but for me, it has been a cocktail of emotions.
George Floyd murder by Derek Chauvin which was caught on camera was heart-wrenching. May God rest his soul in eternal peace and may justice prevail.
The protests and riots that ensued after the incident were disconcerting. The streets in American cities were getting wild by the day, looting and burning was the new norm at the time of writing of this article. You could see an expression of angst by the people following years of suppression and repeated violations with no real consequences.
Then there was the Launch America event, America’s quest to launch a man from American soil to the international space station for the first time since 2011.
It was a nostalgic event that brought memories of the sixties and restored America’s pride in leading innovation and space exploration. It was a source of optimism, courage and determination of human spirit. A perfect antidote to the dark week that it has been.
The launch of Falcon 9 rocket carrying dragon by NASA and SpaceX on Saturday was by far the highlight of the week. Elon Musk the SpaceX founder had this to say during a post-launch press conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday evening.:
“I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly, It’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened.” Elon Musk, SpaceX founder
I could feel the emotion in him, it is sort of a culmination after years of trial and error. Years of standing down due to technicalities, years of standing down due to forces of nature that are beyond our control. Beating the odds and succeeding.
In his speech, Musk mentions that it has taken 18 years of hard work. I can only imagine the level of deep work that went into it. Much thought and creativity went into designing the dragon vehicle and the Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragons sleek interior espoused great user experience and functionality and it is a testament of commitment to design and quality.
Today, I will talk about deep work because it is necessary. It is the gateway to progress in life and society. It is also important in this age of information surplus. I view deep work as a war chest to in a dopamine-driven distracted society.
What is deep work?
Cal Newport, a believer in deep work philosophy and author of a book titled “Deep Work”. He defines Deep Work as 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.
No doubt, some of your best work will come as a result of hours of deep work. You could be a writer, a designer, a programmer, a researcher and so on. Making deep work your companion is a sure way to your success.
In my career so far, some of the best work I have produced is as a result of deep work. Sitting for hours on end, burning the midnight oil, restarting after failure upon failure and having the humility to learn new concepts. All these happen within a deep work context.
It will be incomplete for me to talk about deep work without talking about shallow work.
Shallow work is the antitheses of deep work. Carl Newport defines shallow work as a series of tasks that are non-cognitively demanding and do not generate new knowledge.
We all do shallow work every day and it is more ubiquitous than you think. For example, checking your mail and performing repetitive tasks like data entry.
The reality of shallow work is that it does not create any form of leverage. With increasing automation, shallow work is facing extinction due to pervasiveness of bots and robots at the work environment.
It is, therefore, a risky choice to stop at shallow work. Going into the future, there is more upside in engaging in deep meaningful work.
How can one engage in deep work?
They say that to develop a habit you need to do something consistently for 21 days. The secret is in there. You have to be consistent in doing deep work every day even when you do not feel like it. Show up daily and build that resilience.
I have two strategies I would like to share with you that have worked for me:
- Unplug – I know this is an extremely difficult thing to do at the moment. There many things competing for our attention. Zoom virtual meetings have become a craze. Your phone notification is buzzing every minute demanding for your attention. Your email inbox is reading 1,078+. You feel like satisfying the lurking urge of going to inbox zero. You feel overwhelmed and lack focus. If this is you then it is time to unplug. It is time to take extreme measures like switching off your phone, it is time to decline more virtual meetings requests, it is time to reduce the frequency of checking and replying to your emails frequently and so on. The bottom line is, reduce any tech-related potential distraction as much as possible.
- Limit physical access – being available physically to people is one of the biggest distraction to deep work. People around you will always have something to do with you. While it is not a bad thing, being available to everyone all the time works against doing deep meaningful work. It gets even worse during this time of COVID-19 as many are working at home where distraction is inevitable. I have come to appreciate the need for a home office as one of the strategies to counter accessibility. Find yourself an isolated place to escape to for actual deep work.
Those are my star two strategies that have worked for me. Carl Newport has done more justice on this in his book with more examples in his book Deep Work. I encourage you to read further.
Before concluding, I want to take you back to two key recent events that espouse deep work philosophy. The Launch America event that happened on 30th May 2020 and the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Launch America event, the sight of the two astronauts @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug draped in their white and shades of black space suit got me thinking about deep work. How much of deep work did the whole team have to put in before achieving such a great feat?
Shifting gears to the current research of the novel Corona Virus vaccine. There are 70 Corona Virus vaccines under development. Data further indicate that this was a huge leap from 44 vaccines under research in March. In this race, the winners will be those who spend their time consistently in deep work.
To conclude, human beings can only stride to the next step of civilization by engaging in actual deep meaningful work.