In today's world, being able to concentrate on a single activity is becoming increasingly rare. And as a consequence, it's a highly valuable skill to possess.
The competitive nature of the modern workplace is growing. Meanwhile, we're constantly bombarded with distractions that make it difficult to focus and get things done.
So if you want to succeed and gain a competitive advantage, you'll want to cultivate a deep work philosophy to getting things done.
Deep work is the ability to focus on a single task without distractions. It's a simple, yet powerful concept coined by Cal Newport. And it empowers you to thrive in the workplace by allowing you to rapidly learn hard skills and create value at an exceptional level.
In this article, we'll look at the importance of cultivating deep work in today's economy, and two core reasons why it's so valuable.
The Importance of Deep Work in Our Economy
Digital technology is transforming the workforce, and people who don't keep up will get left behind.
In Newport's book Deep Work, he references MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee for their insights on the future of work. They predict that, as technology improves, organizations will be more likely to hire "machines" over "people." This is due to the fact that machines are becoming capable of handling many of the duties that average or low-skilled workers complete.
While this can be daunting, it also presents an opportunity for those who are willing to adapt and figure out how to succeed in this new economy.
High-Skilled Workers and Superstars Will Be Sought After
Two types of professionals will be highly sought after in the workforce: High-skilled workers and superstars.
High-skilled workers will be in demand. Technology is likely to take over average or low-skilled jobs, but a human touch will still be necessary to operate these intelligent machines. High-skilled workers will be professionals who can work well with technology, and use them to create meaningful results.
Superstars will also be in demand. Thanks to digital technology and collaboration tools, the workforce is becoming more globalized. And organizations can now find the best talent from around the world, which has led to a winner-take-all market in sectors of the knowledge economy. This has pros and cons. This is excellent news for the superstars, but threatening news to the average worker who produces mediocre results.
So what's the best strategy for becoming a high-skilled worker or superstar? Deep work.
And here's why.
Two Reasons Why Deep Work Helps You Thrive in the Workforce
Deep work gives you two abilities that allow you to become a high-skilled worker or superstar.
According to Newport, these abilities are:
- Quickly mastering hard skills.
- Producing valuing at an elite level.
Let's explore each.
Deep Work Helps You Quickly Master Hard Things
In the new economy, it's not enough to be good at one thing. You have to be able to learn new things fast and adapt as the world changes.
K. Anders Ericsson coined the term “deliberate practice,” and it's a crucial component to quickly mastering hard things.
- Having a narrow focus on a specific skill you’re trying to improve.
- Receiving feedback so you can continuously grow. This keeps your attention on the most important facets of your learning process.
Focus is an underrated variable in this deliberate practice equation. In both steps of the learning process above, you must have an intense level of concentration to improve.
Many people won't commit to this level of focus because it's uncomfortable. It's much easier to engage in shallow work, as it's more gratifying in the short-term and gives you dopamine hits. This gives you a competitive advantage (if you're willing to adopt a deep work philosophy).
The bottom line is: If you want to quickly master hard skills, you need to be able to do deep work.
Deep Work Helps You Produce At An Elite Level
Learning hard skills only gives you the potential to create valuable results, but you still need to use them.
In Newport's words, “If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”
Many people struggle with performance because of poor work culture and unproductive habits. And one of the biggest culprits is the constant context switching that happens throughout the workday. Instead of focusing on a singular task for an uninterrupted period of time, we're tempted to constantly jump to different tasks, meetings, emails and messages.
Business professor Sophie Leroy explains that constantly switching your focus results in "attention residue," which diminishes cognitive resources and weakens your performance.
Another insightful anecdote comes from Newport himself. When he was working on his second book How to Become a Straight-A Student, he interviewed about fifty of the country's highest-performing college students to understand how they produced quality work. He noticed that these high-performing students actually studied less than the group of students with slightly lower GPAs.
They were peak performers because they engaged in long, uninterrupted work sessions. They could enter a state of intense focus and produce excellent work (and in less time).
The main takeaway here is that if you want to perform at an elite level, you need to cultivate intense focus through deep work.
Next Steps: Become a Winner in the Modern Workforce
Deep work is becoming rare and, as a result, increasingly valuable. It gives you the ability to quickly master hard skills and perform at an elite level. If you want to thrive in the new economy and gain a competitive advantage, this is a must-have skill.
Want to learn more about deep work? Check out our article: What Is Deep Work? Unlock Your Mind's Fullest Potential.