I just finished listening to an absolutely tremendous episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Federalist. My buddy Gene turned me onto this show and I’m glad he did. I really like listening to smart people with diverse opinions and this is one of the best conservative/Constitutionalist podcasts out there. It’s smart and completely unlike the type of moronic shit you’ll get from Fox or Glen Beck.
This particular episode is an extended interview with a computer science professor named Cal Newport. His recent book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, is about the need to develop the practice of prolonged concentration. His thesis is essentially that anyone who needs to produce excellent work with their mind should develop a personal system to diminish distraction. The biggest threat to this kind of mind space is the hindering plague of social media.
If you’re reading this near the time it’s published, you’re probably friends with me on Facebook, so you know how hooked I am on posting puns and shitting all over Bernie Sanders. If you’re reading this far into the future, that might mean that I’ve achieved some fame for my writing. Let’s hope that’s the case.
Either way, I’ve really been online a lot because my move to West Oakland has taken me away from seeing a lot of my friends face-to-face and I’ve been happily busy with a lot of freelance work and haven’t had much free time to dick around with my cronies. Facebook has been a great tool for me to hear what’s up with my favorite primates. But I’ve noticed a strong uptick in my anxiety, a decrease in my attention span, and a general irritation with myself for not reading as much.
Newport makes a strong case for deep work and concentration being an in demand skill set that will make knowledge workers more competitive as we move into a future where we will have to work smarter, faster, and better than our peers to succeed. There will be no room in the future for the meritless and the quickest way to join the ranks of burger flippers and low-wage marketing drones is to tune your mind to shallow thought.
To achieve skill and craft, you have to focus. This is why Nate Diaz is great. It’s why Stephen King crushes it. They do their thing like there’s nothing else in the world worth doing.
As of this paragraph, I’ve checked Instagram twice and Facebook once. I’m a god damned addict. And it’s making me suck at life. I’ve sort of fallen into a nefarious trap. I write online, therefore I think posting online and chiming in on the day’s nonsense is going to somehow make my life better or speed up my career. This is so unbelievably wrong I’m going to take a moment here and slap myself in the face for being so idiotic.
Shit. I just knocked one of my contacts into the back of my eye. Hold on.
I’m never happier or more centered than on a day when I’ve done three things: worked out, read for a few hours, and written at least a page or two. Thanks to the daily writing challenge I get at least a third done, but last I checked, 33% is an F.
Today I spent the day on a lovely lamb ranch for a work project. There was no cell phone reception or internet and I had great conversations and a ton of ideas about projects that are coming down the pipe. This affirms everything Newport spoke about on the show.
So now what?
Well, I’m going to try and give myself some windows of time where I go free of connection to the world wide derp machine. I want to start with an hour, the thirty minutes when I get up and the thirty minutes I go to sleep. I know this sounds like peanuts, but this is how you break habits and build patterns of good behavior.
I’ll let you know how it goes over on Facebook.