Is Shallow Work “Normal”? Capacity Building in Terms of Deep Work

Having the capacity to complete tasks is essential, there’s no doubt about that. This goes the same whether you build your schedule or are in a “normal”* 9-5 setting with many peers. In my experience, capacity is hard to make; however, not unachievable. 

We’ll start by assessing business-type capacity, then move onto building capacity for yourself. 

Business setting:

You’ll notice that I use a fair amount of quotation marks throughout this blog post section. Bear with me, and you’ll discover why.

Capacity building meetings, with a base of: “how can we stop unnecessary work and make time for what’s most important?” as well as working with others who need information sent back to them STAT are examples of what I’ve experienced in a business setting. Including adding chat apps instead of email for the “short, quick, and easy” way to communicate, moving workstations closer together to encourage collaboration, and have many meetings scheduled – no matter what the “important” subject is. 

In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, businesses have been gravitating towards open spaces and collaborative environments, thinking that this is a great way to get employees communicating effectively and continuously. However, this promotes distractions, and in hand, reduces deep work while advances shallow work. If you’re unfamiliar with deep work – reference another of my blog posts, Keeping Up With Your Ambitions

Shallow work – logistic-style knowledge work with not much need for cognitive ability, which doesn’t add much value to this world’s content.

Another personal example of working with a business – which often finds capacity building difficult, while also promoting shallow work – is that working from home “does not work.” Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, where working from home has become much more influential, we’ve had to discover what this means for businesses and how to make it work. For some companies, the transition has been much smoother, where others have had difficulties. 

Personally, working from home has been successful, and here’s why:

  • I’ve been able to have fewer distractions.
  • I have had the opportunity to find answers to my questions myself, making my work feel more fulfilling. 
  • I’ve been able to focus on the work that’s important.

Disclaimer: this may not work for every individual, as some positions require much communication, and yes – communication is typically “easier” while in person. 

Note: The use of “easier” above also contributes to the principle of least resistance. As Newport describes it: the easy work – like directing questions towards others instead of solving it themselves – is increasingly more acceptable in the workplace because of the promotion of collaboration. 

= distracted work. 

The businesses that have resistance to change by not allowing working from home unless absolutely necessary is a result of not having clear information on whether this actually works. There’s no data available to confirm that being home while working is beneficial, and therefore, has been placed within the metric black hole. 

Metric Black Hole – An area in our system that makes it hard to measure individual contributions. 

Deep Work capacity building:

How can you build your capacity and complete your tasks in a timely and effective manner:

It’s basically doing the opposite of what businesses are increasingly advancing towards with their employees.

  1. Remove yourself from the collaborative setting, at least for a bit. People tend to think they need answers quickly to resume their work and will add distractions to your work. Noting back to the principle of least resistance, this is an attempt to make their work easier. Set aside time for where you ONLY work on your tasks – that means no email, no chat, no phone, and make it known, among others.
  2. Don’t try to make yourself look busy just for the substance of it. Just because you may look busy doesn’t mean you’re productive. Busyness as a proxy for productivity is a trend among workers who may not have clear indicators of their work value and, therefore, choose to have the visibility of being busy. Make time for what matters – whether you’re truly busy or not.
  3. And remember, remove yourself from distractions. Again, find a time where there’s no email, no chat, and NO PHONE. Make sure the time without your phone is the longest, as this is a distraction always. It’s true that phones, whether they’re used for work or personal, have addictive qualities. “This thing is a slot machine,” spoken by Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager, on smartphones in the article “What is “Brain Hacking”? Tech Insiders On Why You Should Care”. Find time without these distractions, and you will thrive.

I’m ending this blog post with a substantial quote; take the time to think about what this means for you while you’re building your capacity to create what you love.

“Creativity is above all a mental act. Any time one has to make a choice, any choice, there is an opportunity to be creative and therefore, the possibility to make more of one’s life.”

Richard Stine

*Normal. How can “normal” be defined? The world is ever-changing, and so are our norms. Advancing technology and the growing spirit of self-starters (not to mention the Pandemic that we’re residing in) are, in turn, increasing the ability and willingness to transform the way we work. Speaking from personal experience and my audience’s desire to thrive with creativity: do what feels right and screw all the judgmental cynics that turn their nose to you. “Normal” can and should be individualistic – do your normal. 

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