Distracted? Read this book

Personal Growth

Written by Tracey Burns

January 21, 2023

How is your ability to focus these days? You know, the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task? According to Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world”, our ability to focus without distraction “is a skill that allows us to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”

To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. ~ Cal Newport

“Deep Work” has been on my shelf since I read it a few years ago. I enjoyed the validation I needed back then to stick to what I knew worked for me despite pressure to follow like a sheeple the ways of the herd in order to “get along”.  Do they know me?!

I’ve picked that book up off the shelf again, leafing through, remembering the high points, how much I appreciated Cal Newport then and how much I love reading. I have an ongoing and ever renewing pile of books that shape me as a leader.  

Fact is that I’m known for getting lost in books. Immersed. Deeply focused. Which my family would describe as “not reachable”, “zoned out”, “completely unaware of surroundings” and sometimes… “impending danger”. Over the years I’ve err, fallen out of a tree reading and yes, walked into a lamp standard.  I mute the external world and use my imagination to bring the words, characters and stories to life.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or fact, books are my mentors, teachers and friends.

As I began to read the first chapter of a book over holiday break I found myself jumping up, reaching for my phone, noticing a branch that needed trimming outside, counting the delivery trucks that circled our cul de sac and yelling to my partner, “Oh hey! What’s our neighbour building over there?”  To which she replied, “do you need some gum?” Say what?!

Ah! The many surprising benefits of living with an occupational therapist. And, I might add, she had a point. (As I sit here chewing gum.) In case you’re wondering, in an article published in the March/April 2019 issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology, Ginns and colleagues argue that chewing gum may also enhance attention, alertness, and learning. It works for me and also provides a low calorie way of working through difficult or challenges concentrating.

I was shocked by my inability to do the thing that came naturally to me so I’ve abruptly changed my ways in 2021. I’ve deduced that with the decrease of in person social interactions and the increase in screen time (Zoom) due to COVID, the multiple streams of incoming notifications for Whatsapp, Text Messages, Email, Social Media and Messenger keep me and quite possibly you from engaging in purposeful, meaningful work.

Since then, I’ve silenced every notification I have. I have NO. MORE. RED. DOTS. I’ve stopped the habit of scrolling when I’m stuck. I’ve blocked time to focus and work on big projects daily. I’ve eliminated every distraction I could think of to encourage my focus and creativity to return.  It’s been 35 days and it’s working.  I’m experiencing fulfillment again, my creativity has returned, my state of zen restored.

Here’s another fact that surprised me, “if you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to e-mail, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. Even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur.

 

Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.” 

Here are five key takeaways:

  1. Focus is a learned skill that leads to enjoyment and satisfaction
  2. Engaging in deep work produces valuable and high-quality output

  3. Eliminating distraction supports you to quickly master complicated things and prioritize what is most important

  4. Minimizing distraction will bring meaning to your work

  5. Limiting social media scrolling and phone time has many positive benefits to emotional and intellectual health

 

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