Time blocking (DW#895)

We have been talking about how switching from task to task results in sub-optimal performance due to "attention residue" from the previous task.
Cal Newport suggests that in order to counteract this, we use "Time Blocking" to work on projects and tasks through the day and week.
The time blocking method asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks.
Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things that you will get to as you are able to, the time blocking method invites you to start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you will work on and when.

I have been using time blocking and it’s variations for a while now (imperfectly, I might add!) and I have to say that when I work in time blocks, I notice several things that Cal Newport said would happen:

  • I don’t have to constantly make choices about what to focus on.
  • I am much...
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Attention Residue (DW#894)

I have been telling myself for years that I am great at multi-tasking. Like many women, I take pride in being able to juggle many tasks at the same time.
I am sure many of you (women in particular) can relate: we believe we are incredibly efficient by simultaneously listening to a conference call, writing a few e-mails, eating our salad at our desk and putting in loads of laundry between Zoom meetings.
I thought I had been doing a good job. That is until I came across this research a few years ago  . . .
Apparently almost no one is great at multitasking. What we are doing instead is "toggling our attention from task to task" – shifting our attention rapidly from one thing to another.
And this comes at a cost.
"The problem this research identifies with (multitasking) is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking...
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Shallow work (DW#893)

We have been discussing deep work. Let us compare it now with Shallow Work.
"Shallow Work, explains Cal Newport, is "Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tends to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate".

He goes on to say that Shallow work is very common in this "age of network tools". When we are constantly checking emails, for example, we are really not producing anything meaningful. In fact, we are working on other people’s agenda’s. He uses very powerful language to diss the addiction to email:

"knowledge workers (today) increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction."
Ouch. That hit hard.
It may be wise to ask ourselves how much time we are spending as a human network router—constantly sending emails and otherwise...
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The value of Deep Work (DW#892)

Yesterday we talked about how distraction free effort (Deep Work) is both valuable and rare today. 
Deep work, writes Cal Newport, "is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities."
  • Deep work: Distraction-free concentration which
  • Stretches your cognitive capabilities to their limit
  • Creates new value.
  • Improves your skill and abilities (that is helps you grow).
And the products of this type of work are hard to replicate (in other words Deep Work is creative and makes an original contribution).
Make no mistake. The ability to focus and concentrate is becoming rare and therefore more valuable. This is what is going to matter in the days and years to come. Whether or not we can focus on the task at hand and make a meaningful contribution.
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The challenge getting into FLOW (DW#891)

What is the very first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Do you reach for your phone and check in? Do you catch up with everything that you may have missed (on WhatsApp, email, social media) as you slept?

Do you do this even before you have connected with the Divine, your loved ones, yourself?

If you do, of course you are not alone. We are becoming increasingly tethered to our devices.
Our devices are of course useful in so many ways — they give us access to an unlimited wealth of information and make it easier to communicate with loved ones far away, to note just two basic benefits.
The convenience of having smart phones comes at a cost, however, especially in terms of focus on work and the ability to get into a flow state.

The magical (and increasingly rare) state of being so engaged in a creative activity or project that you lose track of time is essential for meaningful productivity. Cal Newport calls it Deep Work.

He defines Deep Work...

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Finding joy in effort (DW#890)

Yesterday we talked about how work can make us happy.

Of course it is not all work. Busy work which has no meaning or purpose will not create a state of "flow" or satisfaction.

And neither will "shallow" work – that is activities which are done half-heartedly or in a state of distraction.

Before we go any further, let us define "flow" or finding joy in effort.

Flow, according to Wikipedia, is the "mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi by the way, calls flow the "secret to happiness."

In order to be in a state of flow and find joy in effort, we need to be

  • Fully immersed (distraction free) and
  • Enjoy the process (which by the way can only happen if we are fully immersed and focused on what we are doing)

Daniel Goleman also affirms (in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence) that full focus...

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The joy of effort (DW#889)

Do you dream of lying on the beach, chilling and taking it easy? Do you believe that this will make you happy?

I hate to break it to you, but it will not.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us in his ground breaking book Flow, that human beings completely misjudge what will make us happy. We tend to imagine that vegging out in front of the TV and engaging in other leisure activities will make us happy. But it does not. Surprisingly, meaningful work, which we sometimes run away from, does.

Csikszentmihalyi says: "we have a paradoxical situation: On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure."

Pretty strange, right? We hurry through activities which are good for us towards those which...

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The jagged path (DW#888)

The path of progress is not a straight line. It is normal and expected that when we are learning and growing, we will not be making progress every single day.

In fact, some days, it seems that for every two steps forward, we are taking one step back!

And at times, in fact, it is even worse than that. We seem to slip back a couple steps for every step we take forward. In other words, we appear to be regressing rather than progressing.

It is during these times that we are most vulnerable to giving up and leaving the Master’s path and exiting into our favorite alternative (recall the Dabbler, the Obsessive and the Hacker and know your tendency!). It is during these times when we may be telling ourselves that it is no good, we are not cut out for this and the "program" is not working.

Here’s the thing, though.

Once we KNOW that this regression is INEVITABLE, that it is a part of the process, we can encourage ourselves to keep following the process and to keep going.

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Loving the plateau (DW#887)

Yesterday we talked about how the process of self-growth involves many plateaus. And since we will inevitably be spending time on plateaus, it makes sense that we enjoy them.

And that can only happen if we stay focused on the process, and enjoy the journey rather than be obsessed with the destination.

Leonard says: "Goals are important. But they exist in the future, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. You can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life."

Process, process, process. That is all we have control over and all that we can do in the present.

Leonard says that he learnt to enjoy the plateaus of his own aikido practice—the moment when he found...

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The reality of life (DW #886)

If you watch movies you know that producers work hard to keep our attention on the screen. Real life seems quite exciting – a series of endless climaxes as Leonard describes it:
"In all of this, the specific content isn’t nearly as destructive to mastery as is the rhythm. One epiphany follows another. One fantasy is crowded out by the next. Climax is piled upon climax. There’s no plateau."
A little bit of work is followed by great results in the movies and this can skew our perceptions in many ways.
The real life path of mastery is not that exciting when we watch it moment by moment because it involves many plateaus—often long ones—where nothing appears to be improving very fast.
Leonard advises: "If you’re planning to embark on a master’s journey, you might find yourself bucking current trends in American life. Our hyped-up consumerist society is engaged, in fact, in an all out war on mastery."
One more...
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