The struggle for focused attention in a hyper distracted world.

What we need to succeed in the modern information economy.

Unless you live in a parallel universe, you’re either a techno-skeptic,techno-optimist or somewhere on that spectrum.For better or for worse, the future is one in which we must learn to co-exist with technology, while improving our own cognitive output.

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, discusses how humans should change the way they work to focus on cognitively demanding tasks to win in an information economy.

In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.

Is deep work the answer for humans to remain relevant and thrive in a super-competitive technopoly? Paradoxically, Newport, a Professor of Computer Science, suggests that this can be done by limiting our interaction with technology.

Deep Work: 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.

The Situation

Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy
1.The ability to quickly master hard things. 
2.The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
And because these technologies change rapidly, this process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again.
Once the talent market is made universally accessible, those at the peak of the market thrive while the rest suffer.
There’s a premium to being the best. Even if the talent advantage of the best is small compared to the next rung down on the skill ladder, the superstars still win the bulk of the market.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity:

In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.

People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand … they’re pretty much mental wrecks.

Quit Social Media. Network tools distract us from work that requires unbroken concentration and depth, and moves us to a shallow, mechanical way of work that produces invaluable output. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. This is known as the Flow.

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Some decisions are better left to your unconscious mind to untangle.The Unconscious Thought Theory(UTT) hypothesizes that this is due to the fact that these regions of your brain have more neuronal bandwidth available, allowing them to move around more information and sift through more potential solutions than your conscious centers of thinking.

Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.

How do I get started?

The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
  1. Intention- Identify your reasons to develop this habit and commit to it.
  2. Disconnect- Prioritize the apps and tools that are absolutely essential to your success and cut out the rest.
  3. Isolation- Specify a location/desk/room where you can spend long hours in isolation with minimal distraction.
  4. Time- Sessions can range from a minimum of 2–4 hours to 2–4 days.
  5. Ritualize- Prepare a small starting and shut-down ritual for your brain to recognize that it’s time for deep focus.
  6. Identify the variables- Identify the relevant variables and the question you need to answer.
  7. Be Wary of Looping- When faced with a hard problem, your mind, as it was evolved to do, will attempt to avoid excess expenditure of energy when possible. One way it might attempt to sidestep this expenditure is by avoiding diving deeper into the problem by instead looping over and over again on what you already know about it.
  8. Persistence- There is no one-size fits all approach to deep work. For some 2 hours deep work session done daily might work,for others it could be an entire weekend in isolation and probing. The point is, to try what works best for you and your time, and get better at it.

TL;DR

  1. Technology is getting smarter than humans, we must perform at a higher level and improve cognitive output.
  2. Intensely focused attention for long periods of time can help us improve our cognitive output.
  3. The future will be owned by those who can differentiate themselves by learning hard things fast, again and again and again.
  4. Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Internet Applications and Tools+ 
    Be Wary of Distractions. Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
  5. Structure your deep thinking and your free time.
  6. Deep Work is a skill that needs will power and work to master, but one which ultimately improves the quality of performance and life.