@adlrocha - Deep or Tweet
Reflections on my deep work habit.
|Alfonso de la Rocha||Nov 3, 2019|
Three years ago I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work”. This book completely changed my general view about work. After reading the book I completely changed my working schedules, the kind of work I was and wasn’t willing to do, and my view of the role of work in a good life. What the hell, thanks to this book I even changed my relationship with social media. This book came to me in a really early stage of my career, and it was a life changing experience. Since then, I’ve tried to keep the deep work habit Newport proposes sticking (with at least some) of his rules. However, I feel like lately I am losing the deep focus I was used to have.
Silence in the age of noise
Practicing deep work not only enables you to deeply focus in order to help you learn complex things, solve hard problems and produce elite-level work, it also gives you an optimal environment (through a set of tools and tricks) to harness your creativity and focus on your long-term plan (whatever that is). Deep work helps you become the high-skilled worker, the superstar or the owner you are looking to become. In short, deep work can help you “become a winner in the new economy”, so it is a skill I am not willing to lose myself.
Seeing how I was losing my focus and my ability to practice deep work, I decided to reread Cal Newport’s book. I could feel it was not just a matter of deep work, but of general focus, so along with “Deep Work” I decided to read another incredible book which is perfect for the times we live in, “Silence in the Age of Noise” by the Norwegian Erling Kagge. Rereading these books helped me make the diagnosis for my lack of focus.
Paint your target
Working for the sake of working is absurd. Yes, we need to work to make money and make ends meet. I agree, not everyone can work in what they love, or they can choose a meaningful job. Either way, you will be working for a great percentage of your life so I guess you better enjoy it, have a plan, or have at least some restlessness to make this journey bearable.
Your goal can be personal, professional, family or selfless, but I am of the opinion that if you work with a clear target in mind, you will enjoy what you do, endure the bad times better, and be more motivated in a daily basis. Goals help us wake up every morning, and serve as the perfect excuse to pursue the deep work habit and a deep life.
This brief dissertation takes me to my problem at hand, why I feel I am losing focus, and what do I mean by “lost focus”? Fortunately, I am a person who has really clear long-term goals. Throughout my life, I have recurrently reflected on this matter, and this have helped me to iteratively design a set of long-term objectives to help me drive all my decisions (trust me, it is easier to make decisions once you have a clear target). But despite all of this, I have been lacking focus lately, and by lack of focus what I mean is that I have been spending my time in things that are not aligned towards my plans. In case you are wondering, no, it is not that I don’t like my job (which I do), nor that I don’t love my couple, the city I am living in, or the skills I am learning. All of that is fine. The reason is plainly and simply Twitter.
This is the result of my diagnosis: I am not made for social media.
Rule #3: Quit social media
This is one of Newport’s key rules to embrace a deep life. And I totally get why. The first thing I did the first time I read Cal Newport’s book was quitting Facebook. I didn’t have a Twitter account then, and the social network that attracted all my attention was Facebook. To be honest, I wasn’t spending that much time on the social network to justify me quitting it (I’ve never been really addicted to social media), but it was distracting me way too many times throughout my day to be able to focus or think deeply for one hour straight. I couldn’t let this happen. I therefore quit Facebook (one of the best things I ever did, by the way), and started embracing a deep work habit with at least one-hour sessions of uninterrupted focus (either learning new things, thinking about hard problems, or reflecting about my life).
I have had Linkedin for several years now, but its content has never excited me enough to make me take a look at it more than once a day (or even a week). However, a year ago I started my own Twitter account, and here is where things started to get messy. At the beginning I had no followers, so I felt no pressure to tweet nor follow anyone. It was just a dumb tool I used to check news about blockchain, see the highlights of the Laker’s game, and watch some funny cat videos. Nothing serious up to here.
Things started changing the more people I was following and the more followers I was getting. I felt compelled to be up to date with my timeline in order not to lose any of the news related to my field. I was starting to get infected by the FOMO disease (Fear Of Missing Out).
Not only I was feeling the pressure of being up to date with my timeline, I was also feeling compelled to periodically write high-quality tweets about my thoughts, opinions, skills, and knowledge. I think I am good at what I do, and I am professionally doing exciting things, so I had to let everyone know about this. Everyone had to know and agree on how good I was, and how exciting were the things I was working on. I wrote what in my opinion were really insightful tweets with virtually zero impact compared to the bull crap tweets being liked and retweeted in the community. WTF Twitter? I was generating way better content than that guy next to me with the same number of followers and who was just copy-pasting a few lines from an article and adding no real value to the community… and he was the one being trending topic? I was starting to get really frustrated and angry. This whole dynamic sucked. I was letting Twitter likes and retweets be a metric of my value as a professional, a developer, an engineer, and a digital being.
One day I finally woke up from this bad dream and I asked myself, “What the heck am I doing?” I have never let other’s opinion affect me, and now I am worried about tweeting and “letting people know how good I am” when in the end what makes me good is the books I am not reading and learning from while I am planning that next tweet, the side project I am neglecting because I am too worried about my followers, or the deep work session I constantly interrupt because I have to know all about the new quantum blockchain from IBM (eemm… bullshit detected).
Rule #4: Drain the shallow
All of these Twitter shenanigans, this FOMO disease, and the stupid obsession of showing myself to the world (look how cool I am talking at this conference; look how fancy I am retweeting Google’s last article about quantum rabbits; hey hey, I can program in Rust while I clap my ears. Who fucking cares!), were distracting me from what I really like and my long-term objectives (that as you may have predicted by know it doesn’t include becoming famous or a trending topic).
My relationship with social media was not healthy. It was making me lose focus from what I really value (without any doubt, books >> tweets). I don’t deny social media is a really useful tool, and I am not saying showing how good you are to the world and potential employers is not important for your future, but considering the benefits I get from Twitter right now, and what I want from live, Twitter is not a good fit for me.
And you may be wondering, this means you are going to remove your account? I haven’t decided yet. Probably not. What I will do for sure is minimizing my activity in the network. I will still share my articles there (I would be an idiot if I didn’t), and you will most probably be able to read a tweet from me from time to time. What it is sure is that I won’t be following my Twitter timeline anymore (I’ll find healthier sources of information), and my only origin of exposure will be this newsletter. I am not good because I am in Twitter, I am good because of the things I do and the value I generate.
In the next few weeks I will be implementing a few more habits and tricks to drain the shallow and improve my focus, I will keep you updated.
A deep life is a good life, so let’s start embracing it. - @adlrocha