Deep vs. Shallow Work [Vol. 1.3]

F A T H O M || T R I B E

We need to have some real talk about work. Specifically, how do we know the work we do is our best?

It can take years to figure out how to thrive in a job . Truth be told, you may not have years. Studies show that you are the most transient workforce generation in history. Just when you start to figure things out at your current job, another opportunity opens up. And you’re back to square one.

Saturating the transitions are a barrage of digital distractions: some intended to help you be more productive and others to help you escape.

It’s worth considering: When was the last time you spent a significant amount of time laser focused on a single project or task, free from distraction?

For most, the answer will be tough to recall. You’re in a work culture in which you can easily become a professional pinball, bouncing from opportunity to opportunity in a semi-distracted state. Studies have found that the average professional spends more than 60% of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching. Email alone accounts for 30%. You’re likely to spend 60% of your work time on social media and email. That’s 24 hours of a 40 hour work week socially networked; 12 on email.

12 hours on email? Gross. Is this your best work? It’s not mine.

Best-selling author and computer scientist Cal Newport believes you don’t have to work this way.  In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, he argues for fighting against the avalanche of “shallow work” and cultivating Deep Work in your professional life. (BTW, for a helpful intro to Newport’s thoughts on Deep Work, check out this Hidden Brain podcast.)

What is Deep Work? According to Newport, Deep Work is a professional activity “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.”

On the contrary, Shallow Work is “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted.”

You may be asking, what’s the big deal? Is it so important that I go off the grid and sit and think for hours on end?

Why yes. Yes it is.

Deep Work may be the most valuable professional skill you can cultivate. In our world of work, it’s increasingly rare, and increasingly valuable. Unlike many of the shallow work skills you’ve acquired, you can take Deep Work skills with you in any career path.

But how? Newport offers no quick fix. You cultivate deep work through concentration and deliberate practice by following his four “rules”.

Deep Work Rule 1: Work deeply by scheduling for deep work. In order to be able to offer sustained focus to something, you have to carve out the time.

Deep Work Rule 2: Embrace boredom: Are you taking breaks from distraction (to do real work)? or Are you taking breaks from focus (to recharge)? If we assume we will always be connected while working, we increase our chances for shallow work. Schedule your internet time. Don’t let it schedule you.

Deep Work Rule 3: Quit social media: Okay, this may be extreme for most (including me), so let’s start with “reconsider social media” and its impact on your work. Are the notifications necessary? Do they help your focus or detract from it?

Deep Work Rule 4: Drain the Shallows: Schedule your work in detail to each time block has purpose, and then take some time to look back and assess the depth of each activity. How much time in a week are you spending in deep vs. shallow work?

To help you get started…how ’bout a challenge and a prize?

The Fathom Tribe Deep Work Challenge [challenge ended…thanks to all participants]
I challenge each of you this week to “go Airplane mode” and unplug from the internet and all its social media platforms for a sustained period of time and commit to some deep work. Carve out a time that you think is reasonable for you . . . and then DOUBLE IT! [I double-dog dare ya]. After you plug back into the grid, let us know how it went. Use the hashtag #FTDeepWorkChallenge when you do.

Deep Work Giveaway
Because I care, and because you cared enough to reach this point in a longer than normal newsletter… I’m giving away a copy of Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Here’s how you can enter to win.

  • Post something you’ve found interesting from this newsletter (not during your Deep Work Challenge, obvs) and include the following:
    • The link to subscribe:
    • AND the hashtag: #FathomTribe

Each post you make with the link and #FathomTribe hashtag gets you 1 entry.

The winner will be announced in next week’s letter!

Worth Reading: Speaking of deep work, one helpful technique you can use to stay focused and energized in your work is The Pomodoro Technique. It’s a method to get things done well in short, focused bursts of energy. This Lifehacker article gives the best intro of the technique I’ve found. If you like tomatoes, give it a try. If you don’t, give it a try anyway.

Worth Watching: In one of the most inspiring videos on deep work I’ve ever seen, Sentayehu Teshale demonstrates his craft, which is building stools. Sound mundane? Maybe it would be helpful to know that he builds them USING HIS FEET.

Worth Pondering: “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attentions; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”–Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges

Minimize the shallow this week,


**Pre order Drew’s book (co-authored with Jess Fankhauser) Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in our Twenties, by clicking HERE. #ReadyorNotBook

***Know someone who you think would appreciate this TinyLetter? Share love and send them this link:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: