You are hoping for a solid day’s work.
Brainstorming and writing in the morning, editing and polishing in the afternoon and reading at night.
Not too much to ask for especially when you have the whole day to yourself.
Your day starts well, you mind-map three articles and write three pages before I taking the first break to have breakfast.
But the things start going downhill from there.
Kitchen needs your urgent attention. Ironing is sitting in one corner staring at you. There is no milk in the fridge. If that is not enough to derail you, the sheer guilt for skipping gym for five days in a row does it. That is it, you decide, I am going to gym today.
By the time you come back from gym and do all of the above, it is two pm in the afternoon.
You settle down in front of the computer thinking I am not going to get up until I finish this morning’s writing and editing and polishing.
But as soon as you open your computer you couldn’t stop the urge to check your emails. There are a few urgent ones; it will not take me long to respond to them, you think while you frantically punch keys.
Then quite innocently, wooed by the tempting title, you open the email from another blogger and before you know it you are devouring her writing.
Then without realising you are on the net, surfing to find a fix for annoying technical issue with your blog.
Before you know it, the day has gone.
Now compare this to a day in screen writer and director Woody Allen’s life.
He wakes up in the morning, opens his German Olympia SM3 manual typewriter, starts punching its keys and doesn’t stop until he has finished all he had planned for. He then leisurely walks to his fridge, gets himself a drink and something to eat, stares out from the window for a while to gather his thoughts and then stations himself back in front of his typewriter and type till the next break.
Consider this, in the forty-four-year period between 1969 and 2013, he has written and directed forty-four films that received twenty-three Academy Award nominations – an absurd rate of artistic productivity.
Allen is joined in his rejection of computers by Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist who performs his work in such disconnected isolation that the journalists couldn’t find him after it was announced that he had won Nobel Prize.
J.K. Rowling, on the other hand does use a computer, but was famously absent from social media during the writing of her Harry Potter novels – even though this period coincided with the rise of the technology and it’s popularity among media figures.
What the network tools seem to be doing is chipping away our capacity for concentration and contemplation.
The idea that the network tools are pushing our work from the deep towards the shallow is not new.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr was just the first in the series of recent books to examine the internet’s effect on our brain and work habits.
William Powers’s Hamlet’s BlackBerry, John Freeman’s The Tyranny of E-mail, and Alex Soojung-Kin Pang’s The Distraction Addiction – all of which agree, more or less, that network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.
Cal Newport in his book The Deep Work hypothesizes that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.
As a consequence, the few, who cultivate this skill and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
To do deep and meaningful work we need to organise our lives in such a way that we can get long, consecutive, uninterrupted time chunks.
For me it could mean locking myself up in a room with no computer, just books, a notebook, a pen, a pencil and a highlighter.
Photo by Anastasiya Gepp from Pexels