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Deep Work ICM501

Returning with a New Perspective

The front door to our lane house in Shanghai

In 2019 I was living in Shanghai with my husband David. It was the beginning of a new chapter for us newly-weds who had just moved to a different country. In our lane house, I had my own office where I spent the majority of my time working on UX and coding projects. I was beginning to learn skills that I had aspired to learn for many years, and it felt so good to finally embark on a journey towards professional and personal growth. I absolutely loved having this undistracted time and personal space; and I wanted to make the most out of it.

My office when we first moved in (before decorating of course!)

But simultaneously, I felt a nagging sense that I was missing out on another life. I felt guilty for not spending more time exploring our new city. I’d set up lunch dates and tours with friends but missed using that time to work on my goals. I would work at coffee shops to explore new neighborhoods but would find myself distracted, unfocused, and unproductive. No matter what I did, I always felt like I was missing out on something else. Half of me wanted to use as much time as possible to build my skills, the other half wanted to explore Shanghai nonstop while it was considered our home.

Exploring YuYuan Gardens on a quiet morning.

Fast-forward to 2020, and we’ve spent almost the entire year living in various hotels, and the homes of our families. We left Shanghai on January 24th for a holiday, and due to the pandemic, have not been able to return. Our lives, to say the least, have become far less structured.

We packed for a 10 day hiking trip to New Zealand… 8 months later and we still haven’t been able to return to Shanghai!

This has given me a lot of time to reflect on life in Shanghai and my continuous conflicting state over how to make the most out of it. Now that we are set to return in the next few weeks, I’ve realized that (along with a larger suitcase), I’ll be returning with a new perspective inspired by lessons learned from the book Deep Work:

Lesson #1:
“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)”
I am currently aspiring to become a full-stack designer–which means I am attempting to master several new skills. If I want to reach my goal and compete professionally at an elite level, I need to devote large amounts of time and focus to these efforts. Coming to this realization eliminates any sense of guilt I may have had for prioritizing this work.

Lesson #2:
“If we can set a time and quiet location to do deep work, we have a much better chance for success.”

I am very grateful for my personal, distraction-free office. I shouldn’t feel guilty about spending so much time there because that space is enabling me to concentrate and pursue deep work. This space–paired with deep work practices–will strengthen my abilities to think critically and creatively.

Lesson #3:
“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”

By bringing clarity and intention into what I am doing and why, I can eliminate any doubt over whether I am focusing my time on the right things. This simple insight relieves so much stress and doubt.

Lesson #4:
“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life…”

By adding routines, I can learn to balance my two competing desires of pursuing my goals and exploring my city. They can both exist without conflict by developing a routine that designates time for each. I’ll be incorporating the bimodal philosophy into my practice with this intention in mind.

Lesson #5:
“That ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.”

Just because I’ve designated a space and a routine doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly master new skills. This will be a process in which I adjust and adapt to make these habits a lifestyle. Learning to concentrate will take constant practice if I am to build the muscle memory needed to transform it into my primary mode.

Lesson #6:
“…to systematically develop your personal ability to go deep–and by doing so, reap great rewards.”
I have no doubt I will face times of frustration while reaching for my goals, and that I’ll question if progress is even being made despite my efforts. In those moments I’ll need to remind myself that this is a life-long pursuit and the rewards will reveal themselves over time. I’ll also be remember that an unintentional benefit of this work is a life lived with purpose and intention. This to me sounds like the greatest reward.

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