We live in a distracted world and a distracted age. I know, I'm deep like that sometimes really digging under the surface of society. Watching yourself close down Internet Explorer tabs only to open them up 15 seconds later and browse to the same site though, that's concerning. As these moments in my own life began to pile up it became clear that this is something I'd need to work on.
The 80's and 90's were a time of TV being the distraction. Loud music being played in cars was the distraction. Now it's information all around us. There are two monitors, an iPad screen and two cell phones all within two feet of me at this moment. All of these items promising hours of endless distraction and all I need to do is reach my hand out.
Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, has taken the reigns against this systemic problem and tried to offer up some solutions. I've become self-conscious enough about my own writing to not simply plagiarize all of Cal's great ideas but instead direct you to the book and really focus in on one idea I'm currently stickhandling in my own life. Finding time to focus and do some deep work for me. Oddly enough, finding time has never been my problem. The issue is the distraction and inability to keep myself focused on the hard task at hand to be able to get something accomplished. Case in point, this website! Last post - October 27th and yesterday. Wait, does that mean I didn't find the time? No, I allowed myself to get distracted enough to the point where it became easier to walk away then to start over. So, now that we are all back here again (the one or two of you reading this), let's consider one of many solutions provided by Cal. The Four Disciplines of Execution, an idea Cal is quick to point out he did not create but borrowed and modified, from Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, is now something I'm working on putting into my own life.
The Four Disciplines of Execution that Cal proposes are designed to help truly carve out the time needed for deep work. Deep work is the kind of work where we can really buckle down, ignore the distractions around us and feel as though we accomplished something afterwards. The points are as follows:
#1 - Focus on the wildly important goals. This helps to narrow your focus on what you truly want, and should be, spending your deep work time. Full disclosure, this has been something else I've struggled with. Identifying what those wildly important goals are is creating a bit of turn in my own head. It's the starting point though.
#2 - Remember the lead measures. If you have your important goal then a lead measure is as easy as how many hours you spent working on it in a day. It doesn't have to be complicated. 15 minutes today; good. Let's aim for 20 tomorrow. I've carved out time, early in the morning, to read the books I want without distraction and try to truly digest them. Part of this experiment against distraction is the realization that I can read a hundred books in a year and remember ten of them. I want that to get better.
#3 - Keep a compelling scoreboard. This follows intuitively #2. Tracking can be one of the strongest reminders to keep working. It is quite powerful to look at my workout book in the gym and push myself on getting one more rep or set in. Jon Acuff, in his book Finish, talks about this very idea. The data itself can help keep one on track with all kinds of goals if we are only willing to pay closer attention. Try keeping it simple and noting how many minutes or hours you spend a day doing deep working making sure to keep yourself honest. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a day, just keep track. Getting an extra 15 minutes today, or an extra hour this week is growth.
#4 - Create a cadence of accountability. Take some time each week to review how you made out. Find the things that worked and what didn't. If you are like me and you tend to jot things down then make sure you are taking the occasional note of what worked (when, where, etc.) or what didn't. I'm still working on coming up with good review system. Carving out a few minutes each week to spend the time reflecting may also help me buckle down and improve upon the last week.
It sounds easy when I write it down nicely into these 4 easy steps (borrowed from Cal's book and borrowed from Chris' book) but I can recognize that something has changed. Even understanding the fact that we humans have an uncanny ability to be distracted and why has changed my outlook on the idea of deep work. I'm the classic student who studied in front of the T.V. because of multitasking. As I get older, I recognize the importance of these deeper and more reflective blocks of time. If nothing else changes and I have this time to read carved out, that was worth the price of the book alone in my mind.