Embrace boredom

By Martin Vogel

I’ve been re-engaging with deep work by listening to an old podcast by Cal Newport introducing his ideas on the subject.

In order to create more focus in one’s work, it’s not necessary to transform one’s life to achieve black belt status in the art of concentration. Adopting three simple maxims can shift the dial:

  • Plan each week to do just five hours of deep work
  • Embrace boredom
  • Eliminate unnecessary social media and news browsing

Actually, maxims two and three are variants of each other. Many of us convince ourselves that there is a productive justification for engaging in social media. But social media usage soon becomes a habit for filling ones idle moments with cognitive stimulation – that is to say, staving off boredom. Just look around you on any rush-hour train. Most people who are travelling alone will occupy the time staring at their phones. And a good many of those travelling with someone else will do so too.

I’m increasingly convinced that there isn’t enough boredom in life. Absence of stimulation has become an anxiety-provoking state: almost as if we have assume we have an existential right not to be bored.

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Deep work is the key to doing anything useful in the knowledge economy

By Martin Vogel

The premise of Cal Newport’s Deep Work is that deep work is what creates value in the knowledge economy but our culture encourages people towards distraction. Therefore opportunities exist for those who can prioritise depth. The book outlines strategies for doing so.

Newport defines deep work as:

“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.”

Its antithesis, shallow work, is:

“Noncognitively 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.”

If the thought of a life of concentration sounds exhausting, the good news is that it is not necessary – in fact, would be counter-producive – to try to spend all one’s working time in deep work. Newport says the aim should be to minimise the shallow and get the most out of the time this frees up by committing three to four hours a day to deep work. A certain amount of idleness is necessary to make sure the time spent in deep work is productive and creative.

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