I think that the first time that I ran into the idea of self improvement was probably shortly after I got into going to college on my own.
Today’s blog post is about work and doing your best in what you know how to do.
When I first discovered the blog of calnewport.com, it was called Study Hacks. I had found Cal’s blog after searching the internet for more of these cool hacks I had been seeing at places like lifehacker.com, along with a few other places. The purpose of the site was to help students become better at what they do, studying; and there were few places that provided such incredibly unique and original content. I think that the year was some time between 2008 and 2009. I was floating somewhere between failing out of the University of Utah, and getting admitted into Utah State University.
At the time that I learned about studyhacks, and hacks for that matter, I had been on the dean’s honor list for my associate’s degree after having graduated from my high school at the ripe at of sixteen. To say that I was a dedicated learner, and a systematic student, would be an understatement. But when I started into The University of Utah, my skills as a student began to show all their failings – at least so I thought. I will come back to what I think lead to my failing more in a minute.
What I had come to learn, and which I applied liberally when I started at Utah State University, were some of the ideas that I had gleaned while I was an active reader of Cal’s website. Most of what I had read while I was an active reader was nothing special:
– Make studying rich with experience, by going outside
– Study for no more than two hours a day, law of diminishing returns
– Go to school year round, summer break leads to lazy behavior
– Become passionate about your studies, you are paying learn
The first three I swore by in the first year of my studies at Utah State University. But over time the only one that I held true to was going to school full time. I had a high school teacher that used to say that if you treat school like a full time job that you will have an easier time transitioning into full time work when you get into working life.
Ultimately, I really wish that I would have applied my self to my studies more. The prospects of having a rich social life while going to college were too tempting for someone like me: a conservative farmboy too innocent for his own good. As many know, the college years of life are some of the best that a person can have while they live in a free country. And I fell into the hobbies of college life just as much as the next bachelor: drugs, sex and parties were just a part of the scene.
The one thing that was a part of my college experience, however, that was unlike almost any generation proceeding mine was the ubiquitousness that the internet and social media began to take on. Truly, in the years between my graduating high school, 2007, and the years that I graduated college, 2012, the enitre landscape of knowledge work had completely shifted. The smart phone had made it into everyone’s pockets. Social Media has shifted to something that some of your friends used, to being an active part of every single person’s life. And the amount of time that was spent infront of a screen had seemingly grown by 1000%. And I wished that was exaggeration.
Coming back to what I believe lead to me failing out of the University of Utah, I think that the emergence of connective technologies that were surging among everyone was creating a disruptive stir that impacted every person’s social lives. And as I am writing this now, nearly a decade after I graduated Utah State University, I know for certain that the landscape for connective technology has only grown and disrupted more people’s lives. I stopped all the drugs, sex and parties a long time ago. But if you asked me if I had quit social media and using a smart phone a year ago, I would have laughed at you just as much as anyone would.
Which leads me to Cal’s blog once again. I had chanced on a talk by Cal recently after I wrote about Jaron Lanier’s book. In it he discussed how using social media is usually supported by three arguments. I had commented to my wife that I loved Cal’s work and that I have always wanted to read his books, Deep Work being one of them. To which my wife said, so do. Having no excuse not to, seeing as Library Genesis has all of his books, I downloaded his book and dove deep into his work.
Deep Work is an incredibly compelling argument, Cal’s central premise is that distraction is at the root of failure. He compounds this argument against the notion that Deep Work can only be accomplished when someone focuses tremendous energy and attention to the work at hand, and to do a work in a such a way, or to such a degree, that makes you irreplaceable in a prevailing culture of disctraction and shallow work. Shallow work, by contrast, are logistical tasks that could be accomplished by a sixteen year old with a smart phone. The market will always value what is hard to come by more than what anyone can do, i.e. updating a social media status.
But Cal goes much further than that. Not only does he establish some rules to Deep Work, he declares open war against the techno conglomerates who have invested billions upon billions of advertising dollars to snatch up your attention and get you distracted from anything other than staying engaged with their platforms. As you can imagine, this is the antithesis to what Deep Work is about.
After I had finished Deep Work, I found my self in a kind of reverie. Even though I had taken the time to delete my social media accounts, I hadn’t looked deeper at some of the other technologies that I use and how they too have been filling up my time and my attention. When I reviewed what technologies fill up my time, based on my phone’s native usage service, I learned that I use my phone for almost four hours a day between all the other things that I use it for aside from email, text, slack, and trello. Four hours a day is a signifigant portion of my day. Everyday. This lead me to think more deeply about why I use these services and if they are even necessary.
And to top all of this off, I had a son. I kept asking my self how was I going to be able to invest four or more hours a day to my smart phone with a newborn on my hands to help care for? Needless to say, I began my personal transformation from shallow slave to the techno conglomorates, to dedicated and disiplinced zellot of my own Deep Work.
This is where I turn the time over to you. Have you ever encountered Cal Newport’s work? Have you felt that your phone and the techno lords have stolen something from you? What do you call your deep work? Please comment below.
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