I know for a fact a lot of you, like me, often debate between checking the latest event on Facebook or finishing that essay or project early. More often than not, we end up scrolling through our news feed, heading over to Youtube, and finally stressing over the looming exams while burdened with guilt.
Guilt or Accomplishment?
Now look at what you've accomplished today. Have you completed and quantified a substantial portion of your planned work? Or have you been making yourself busy with admin work and checking emails every 20 minutes? If you are the first option, congratulations! If not, don't despair and read on. What if I told you there was a way to alleviate all of this? No, I'm not a Youtube infomercial, but simply relaying the concept of Deep Work.
Coined by author Cal Newport, the essence of deep work are intense sessions of uninterrupted work with full use of effort and intelligence. This also means removing devices around you, and putting an end to those water cooler discussions. In a 2009 paper, University of Minnesota professor Sophie Leroy studies multitasking and notes that every time a brain shifts its attention from one task to another, part of its energy is still processing the first task. She calls this "attention residue." This is only a tiny portion of the presented theories, but stresses the importance of dedicating all of your focus onto one thing. Think of your train of thought as an actual train. If you remove external distractions and continue speeding along the tracks, there is no limit to what you can achieve. If you talk to your friend on Facebook however, it acts as a braking force.
To reference a formula, High Quality Work = (time spent) x (intensity of focus) x [hard skill level].
Authors including Cal Newport have discovered that the highest performing students aren't the ones buried under a pile of books at 3am, but the ones who study efficiently and still manage a social life; hence the saying 'study smarter, not harder'. This doesn't have to just be for students though, it can be fully embraced by the working professional (third part of equation).
My Personal Experience
Theres good reason to believe that the brain behaves just like any other muscle. We go to the gym often (maybe not), so why don't we train our mind? Using this principle, for the past few weeks I've engaged in semi strict sessions of deep work, mixed with shallow work. It has become overwhelmingly clear that the work I've produced out of those intense sessions were of significantly higher quality. You might be wondering, sure, that's a given, but that's not the point of this post. I want you guys to try it out, or just post your opinion.
Do you think it can work in finance, or just during university? A question I've been wondering about is how to implement this theory into an increasingly shallow world given the advent of social media. Do you think your colleagues or MD would tolerate you sitting at your desk for two hours dead to the world?
Go ahead and try this out. Or not. It's up to you if you want to have a shot at being elite.