Do you remember that story from the Mahabharata, the one where students were being taught archery? The target was the eye of a parrot sitting in a tree. When the Guru asked each student what they saw in front of them, he got varied answers. “Tree,” “leaves,” “trunk,” “sky,” “parrot.”
Only Arjuna said firmly that he saw only the eye of the parrot. That’s Focus for you, coming straight from the Master.
Deep work is defined as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” which is nothing short of a superpower in today’s world fraught with digital distractions.
From a professional perspective, social media is the bane of our times. It is like our tree, leaves, trunk, and sky combined. Digital distractions will find you everywhere if you let them; there’s really nowhere to hide in this connected age.
The opposite of deep work is, you guessed it, “shallow work,” i.e. “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” This is easy to recognise: cleaning out mailboxes, responding to random requests, and so on. We have all been there and done that.
Slide deeper into Deep Work:
In his eponymous book “Deep Work,” professor Cal Newport presents an immersive training regimen made up of four actionable rules that can help transform our mind and habits to build focus. He also advocates cutting out social media altogether if you mean business.
As it’s been said, we really don’t need “more clicks, cats or emojis.” We need to be ‘all there’ while working on a task; it is what will enable us to process complicated information faster and yield better results, allow skills to develop, and provide work satisfaction. Deep work is the way to achieve that elusive Holy Grail.
The most profound insights that thousands of Deep Work followers advocate for are more common sense than anything else. Perhaps those who have grown up in an analog world can relate to these easier than those who cut their teeth on digital technology.
● Quit social media if it leaches into your consciousness and stops you from producing quality work or having a fulfilling life
● Give yourself a fixed time slot for work, and aim to complete your daily tasks in that time frame, and then pull a hard stop. You will be less likely to digress from the job at hand.
● Make the most of “trapped time” like commutes, walks, or while running on the treadmill to thrash out concepts.
● Be mindful of your personal “shallow work” tendencies to avoid them altogether.
Pro Tip: Try daily journaling to declutter your mind
In her pathbreaking book, “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron advocates a simple technique she calls “Morning Pages” for purging your brain of all the nonsense that is weighing it down.
Every day, commit to writing three pages before you start your day’s work. Write whatever comes to mind, even if it is “I can’t think of what to write,” but fill three pages. It soon becomes a habit and an indispensable tool to think, process, and purge. The payout is an exceptional ability to focus and achieve deep work.
Carl Jung shut himself in a stone tower in the woods to build mindful focus. You may not have to take such drastic measures, though! Just set your phone aside, try daily journaling, and see where it takes you.