Deep Work ICM501

The New Normal is Failing Us

Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash

Morning and night. At home, work and on the go. Our connectivity switch is always turned on. Social media has a constant pull for our attention; and businesses are transforming how we work in order to create a culture of constant visibility and availability. Open floor plans are becoming more common — inviting a constant flow of communication and collaboration between all members of a company. Instant messaging is now a professional tool. Instead of waiting to check email, messages pop-up on your screen throughout the day with the expectation of a quick response. Companies (including the New York Times) are encouraging (if not requiring) their employees to play an active role on social media as part of their job responsibilities.[1] None of this may seem that surprising to you. This is the new normal our society has cultivated in response to technological advancements, and the evolution of the internet. But what have we lost in exchange for a “culture of connectivity”[2]? We have lost the ability to produce deep work and gain value from that experience.

“Even though you are not aware of it at the time, the brain responds to distractions.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work

Deep work requires extended periods of concentration and focus—both of which are impossible to achieve in an environment filled with interruptions and distractions. Despite growing popularity, research reveals that these new trends of constant connectivity are non-productive. According to an article featured in Fast Company, “Researchers have shown that people in open offices take nearly two-thirds more sick leave and report greater unhappiness, more stress, and less productivity than those with more privacy.” [3] Without privacy to focus deeply on producing quality work, we begin to engage more with shallow [4] work. Our measure of success becomes based on how visibly busy we appear, and how quick we are to respond to messages no matter the time of day. We are spending more time on task-oriented behaviors and giving it too much value.

“Knowledge workers… are tending toward increasingly visible busyness because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work

We are also losing our sense of craft and expertise. So many professionals today self-proclaim the feeling of “imposter syndrome” when it comes to their work. I argue this is a result of our distracted culture, and the focus we’ve placed on shallow work. When we no longer devote long periods of uninterrupted time to our work, we no longer feel like we are building upon our understanding of it. No matter our titles or salaries, if we don’t conduct deep work, we may never feel a sense of purpose for what we do. Instead, we will feel connected but not productive. Busy but under-valued. Exhausted yet unfulfilled. This realization actual provides a sense of relief. Not because I think the world will change it state of constant connection, but because now I know what I need to do to accomplish my goals. Next time I need the time and space to concentrate deeply, I won’t feel selfish about disconnecting from distractions in order to do so.   

[1] Newport, C. (2016). Ch 2. In Deep Work. London: Piatkus.

[2] Newport, C. (2016). Ch 2. In Deep Work. London: Piatkus.

[3] Everyone hates open offices. Here’s why they still exist” Jun 30, 2019,06:13pm EDT, Fast Company Website

[4] Newport, C. (2016). Ch 2. In Deep Work. London: Piatkus.

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