Thinking

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I’ve written in the past about the concept called “flow“.  As Wikipedia states:

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Last year an author by the name of Cal Newport created Deep Work, a book that describes what the author calls:

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.  These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

The author, Cal Newport, is a computer science geek.  So geeky that he is a comp-sci prof at Georgetown University.  It’s easy to understand where he’s coming from as I can empathize with his many examples.  And that’s just in the Introduction!  He talks about how Carl Jung built a dedicated room, a private office where no one was allowed except him, and where he spent hours writing.  Separating oneself from distractions, whatever they may be, enables someone to concentrate more fully on a topic.  Bill Gates conducted “Think Weeks” where he isolated himself in a lakeside cottage to think.

A 2012 study by McKinsey is kind of shocking:

The average office worker spends 28 hours a week – or nearly 1500 hours a year – writing emails, searching for information and attempting to “collaborate” internally

So how much time does this average office worker have to think?  How much time does this person have to be in the “flow”, to concentrate enough to do “deep work”?

So how do you get to “distraction-free concentration”?  Well, you stop checking your email, twitter feed, Facebook timeline, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and all of the other social media options.  You.  Just.  Stop.  But here is the item that is heretical.  Give people the space to concentrate.  If you can hear the person next to you breathing, then you’re too close.  If you are in a position where you are responsible for coming up with solutions, you need the space to do so.  Current infrastructure desires are the antithesis of what needs to be done.

For many of us, in order to be truly productive, that actually may mean working from home, or the library, or some other venue where the distractions are kept to a minimum.  An absolute minimum.

My wife hates when I am working from home and I wear my noise-canceling headphones.  They are great at blocking out extraneous noise. It also means it blocks out her trying to talk to me about what needs to go on the grocery list.  She doesn’t understand that that is the point.  I need to block out distractions to concentrate and having to respond with, “I don’t know, dear, what about chicken?” disrupts that concentration.  Headphones at the public library?  Perfect.

Deep work, the flow, in the zone, whatever you call it, it is an increasingly rare phenomenon in today’s business environment.  But that makes it increasingly more valuable in today’s business where things are changing rapidly.  To respond to those changes you need the deep thinkers.

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