We are now living in a hyper-connected world. No wonder many people confess feeling overwhelmed and distracted. What distracts us might not be bad things in and of themselves. But what it can cost us might be enormous.
Dr. Cal Newport, in his book “Deep Work,” says that for modern knowledge workers, shallow work has replaced deep work. He defines Shallow Work as “non-cognitive, logistical or minor duties performed in a state of distraction,” such as replying to emails, using social media, and browsing websites. On the other hand, Deep Work is defined as “cognitively-demanding work that requires focused concentration for an extended period without distraction.” It is this “deep work” that gives us joy and meaning in what we do, and that advances our academic and career. It is not that shallow-work is bad, but when we keep on switching from one to the other, we lose the opportunity for deep-work that actually produces the result we want in life.
To do the deep work, Dr. Cal suggests reducing the percentage of shallow-work by using a filter to choose what tools we are going to allow in our lives. People often use “The Any-Benefit Approach,” which is to justify a tool solely based on “any” benefit it might give, whether that has a lasting consequence or not. Instead, Dr. Cal suggests using “The Craftsman Approach,” which is to meticulously weighs the pros and the cons of using a particular tool (or app), and choose to use it only when using the tool gives a substantial benefit (in your academic, career or family) in comparison to the minor benefit that you might miss if you don’t use it. (That’s how craftsman selects their tools supposedly) Certainly, this is not limited to tools we use, but also how we choose hobbies, accept invitations, and spend our time.
As I was reading this book, it challenged me to protect the focused-work that often get disturbed by non-urgent logistic tasks or pastoral demands. I concluded that my most significant contribution to our church comes from deep work of prayer, teaching and leadership. And I realized that there is one primary activity that immensely contributes to the quality of my deep work, which is “reading.” So I replaced my social media time with reading. My default behaviour while waiting (in line or in the car) is opening up the kindle app. I only check social media briefly once or twice a week. It is not that I’m against social media. Using “The Craftsman Approach,” I concluded that its benefit (shallow sense of connection) is not substantial enough to outweigh the benefits of reading for my career.