Cal Newport’s important work emphasizes the power of disconnected, uninterrupted time. Nicholas Carr speaks of the opposite trend: that Shallow thinking has affected our brains and made it tremendously more difficult to focus because, on the Internet, it is SO EASY to click that next link, and soon, you’re looking at cute kitten videos instead of finding some important fact for a project you thought you were working on.
One of the biggest takeaways from Cal’s work, for me, was “attention residue.” Switching tasks rapidly from one to another can take away focus for up to 15 minutes. Multi-tasking is a MYTH. Worse yet, having your attention split in multiples creates a “residue” that builds up, where part of your brain continues to worry about other things and you can never achieve deep thinking about any specific project, if your browser or email client is ‘pinging’ in the background. This can only be addressed if you develop a discipline of offloading other concerns and dedicating 2 to 4 HOURS to a period of intense focus.
Another great takeaway for me was Leading and Lagging indicators of work. Many of us set a personal productivity goals of “publishing X papers this year” or “writing Y white papers” or (very personally) “writing Z blogs this week.” These are, apparently, LAGGING indicators; markers of work competed. Such indicators are not helpful at motivating effort. Instead, consider LEADING indicators of productivity, that can easily be measured, and that you can structure into your day, into your week. For example “Hours of DEEP WORK with email and phone and web browser turned off.” This is specific, something you can DO each day, track on a paper or calendar, and watch the hatch marks multiply. AND, it may lead to some surprising, productive outcomes.
Favorite quote from John Cleese’s talk on creativity:
We don’t know where ideas come from, but we DO know they don’t come from our laptops.
Just set an alarm so that you don’t miss a family meal …
CMIO’s take? The information worker MUST learn to be a DEEP WORK expert. Medical Informatics is so many things, among them: Leading Change, Crucial Conversations, Deep Work. (Wow, more blog posts and book reviews apparently to come!)