One thing I've noticed over the past few months of working remotely is that I'm often more focused on my work at hand. That being said, working from home, or wherever you choose to work doesn't seem to be a silver bullet when it comes to doing deep work. I found this to be the case when I was working through a difficult task at work that involved a lot of moving parts. I had a hard time choosing which one to focus on. I would often start working through one part of the problem, and then get distracted by another part and jump over to it, essentially starting over. I found this context switching to be quite frustrating. It felt like I was spending the time required on the task, but making no real progress. That frustration would lead me to get further distracted, checking e-mail, and social networks. That feeling reminded me of something I once said when I took part in a panel at a student oriented panel at my last job. I was addressing the topic of what I would do different in school, had I known what I know now. I remember saying something along the lines of,
If I were to do it again, I think I would want to start less side projects, and finish more.
The reality is that during my degree I don't think I really finished any of my side projects. That's exactly how switching contexts on this one task felt, and I wanted to change that. Over the past few weeks, I've spent a bit more time thinking about how I want to work and how things like social media, smart phones, etc. have impacted my ability to do deep work. Focusing mental energy on this has made me realize just how bad my attention span has become. It's gotten more difficult to read through articles, or even watch long videos, without trying to skip through to get to the point. All of this sparked my desire to read more on how to work better.
I've been trying a bunch of different strategies to help let myself focus and get some quality work done. A lot of these strategies have been influenced by articles I've been reading on how people focus. Some are just simple things like an Automator app that closes all my non-work related apps on my computer. Or explicitly booking work time in my calendar, setting my slack status and setting all communication to do not disturb. These have definitely helped me focus more than I used to, but they don't always work. I think a big part of that is that the ability to do deep work is not something you can just decide to do one day, it needs to be practiced.
I'm starting off this journey on working better by reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. I'm about halfway through and I've already found it has deeply impacted how I think about doing work and distractions. There are definitely parts of it that are a bit extreme, but I do like that it outlines different strategies, and how some work better for different kinds of work.
All this being said, I still have days that I'm less productive than I want to be. I think that's okay. I know I'm not a machine, I'm not perfect, and that's okay to me. My goal is not to be perfect, but to try and be better every day.
- Cover photo by Yoshiko Evanka