Imagine your mind like your desk. Every morning it's empty. (Usually) You wake up you load it up with all sorts of crap to entertain yourself, social media, Reddit, hacker news etc, etc.
By the time you get to work, there is no place to put work stuff on that desk. You try to put work stuff on it, but pretty much the whole desk is filled with Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook shit. So even if you make some space for the work stuff, sooner or later you focus on Tumblr again. Work stuff gets pushed out.
Generally in my case, by 2PM I manage to clear out all the distracting stuff and get focused.
The solution was this: BORE YOURSELF at every available opportunity.
When I start my morning, I refused to pick up my phone and check out social media (usually I would take a 45 minute dump just catching up on stuff posted last night). Sure my morning chores became a bit boring, but I also became more efficient (I started getting to work sooner).
Basically, by the time I get to my desk, I am so bored that the most interesting thing I can do is work. And my work (programming) is a very interesting task, it used to keep me engaged for hours and hours, it's just that Social Media defeated it.
I do check social media. I check it around 2PM after my standup. That 'impulsive' desire to constantly check it is gone. I catch up on all the social media in the evening or at night (but it doesn't create that compulsive pattern anymore.
End result: My productivity has gone up by 5-6 times. I have a performance enhancement story to work on and I managed to fix 6-7 bugs I found during my work, and it turns out that it was a whole team's sprint's work.
For a while, I found myself waking up and spending a good 20-30 minutes in bed just reading news, then I'd open up the laptop and browse HN while eating breakfast, and before you knew it, it was 10:30 and I still haven't left the house. Gotta spring clean again.
I'll try this.
Though personally I've found if I just log out of facebook and my personal email, that helps. I can't open a tab and have rewards in less than 2 seconds. The extra few seconds to type in a password slows me down enough to just close the tab again and get back to work.
It doesn't require that much self-control as you may think. The important part is to control that 'first' desire of looking at your phone or opening up distracting sites.
What I found is that if I can curb that first desire to get distracted, then the rest of everything is super easy. But if I can't curb that first desire (which usually happens on Mondays), then I have to write that day off to non-productivity.
I started this project last November, and coincided with shutting down Facebook notifications (which helped me a lot). Two weeks ago I uninstalled Facebook mobile app and now I only check facebook by logging into the web version.
Yeah, this is always key. If you don't get that initial dopamine hit from the first potato chip, or that first cigarette, it's a lot easier to ignore the urge.
I have tried this 100 times and it eventually falls apart.
You have to make structural changes in your social media consumption.
Facebook and Twitter are the big killers for me. There'll be others for everyone else but the principles remain—delete everyone you can; block the rest.
The best way I've found to do this is to unfollow like crazy.
The best tips I've found so far:
- Only follow friends and family on Facebook—unfollow literally everybody else
- Unfollow 50% of people on Twitter. If there are friends you don't want to offend, mute their tweets.
I still find that I go to Facebook and Twitter regularly, but I stay there for radically less time.
Twitter was difficult because I had this underlying assumption which told me it was useful for work. It isn't. You won't miss it. Trust yourself to find important information when you actually need it.
Do you count radio, music audio books and podcasts as social media / something to stay away from, even during your commute?
I have found podcasts and audio books to be very interesting and draining so I can see those probably need to be eliminated for sure. But for music I'd be very interested in your take. My commute would be quite dry without it (although maybe that's the point haha)
That being said, here are my observations:
a) The days when I work from home, I focus better than the days when I work in the office. I believe the reason behind this is the fact that during WFH days I just make myself coffee and breakfast, and then start working. On WFO days, I have to go through a commute which increases my chances of getting distracted.
b) During my commute, literally anything would trigger 'distractive thoughts' because my mind is so bored. Subway ads would do the same, seeing someone's book would do the same. The difference is, because now my mind is more focused, the distraction would simply be a long chain of thought rather than a pitstop in me hopping around from thought to thought.
c) The fundamental idea why this process works is that you prevent your rain from 'getting excited'. Social Media makes your brain excited, a podcast, or an audiobook or a book is not as 'exciting' as 20 links on reddit /r/funny.
So I believe that theoretically podcast, music, audiobooks should work (though nothing would work as well as doing nothing and getting bored, but as I mentioned, that might be hard), as long as it meets following two criteria:
1. The book, podcast, audiobook you're into is a relatively calm story, if the podcast is about last year's elections, or it's a real page turner novel or music is the latest album you just discovered by your favorite music artist then it might not be as effective.
2. The activity you're doing, should be long enough to last your commute. If you're reading newspaper, then you're reading 15 different stories, with their own dopamine spikes in your mind.
d) Over long period I believe your brain will go through neuroplasticity and become calmer. I have already experienced that. There are some 'other' effects I observe because of this, but my productivity is so high. Not to mention I'm finally working on my dream side project and I stopped procrastinating regarding nearly everything.
I hope this helps.
I'd be very interested in a full write up, not just in the method but also in your results and observations (once your side project is done of course!).
Thanks for the great tips!
But the more important thing is that it worked from the day 1. I rarely see things which work from the first day.
One disadvantage of deepwork is - your brain sometimes gets stuck into a local minima/maxima when solving problems. As a programmer, I've written code in the flow and then ended up refactoring a couple of weeks later.
I've also experienced dream-learning (and dream-solving) when working or learning in this manner. However, deepwork and staying in the flow for too long can make one feel socially insane.
Deep work - works best when things are planned in detail before you fall in the flow. Any planning activities in between will just break the flow.
>You need to be aware of your finite amount of willpower.
Didn't willpower depletion fail to replicate last year?
> Research shows that a trained memory improves your ability to concentrate...There are many strategies you can apply to train your memory.
I was under the impression that working memory is one of the most difficult (if not impossible) things to train or improve.
I'm not a psychologist, but the way I understand "improving your working memory" is that it's not the number of units in working memory that increases, but the conceptual complexity of each unit.
So, lets say that I practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and have only 3 slots of working memory.
If I'm a beginner, each slot may contain such elements as "pull his arm across my midline", "pull his head towards me", and "post my leg on his hip". These units are only a few of the steps you need to perform a successful armbar from guard.
If I'm more experienced in the domain, each slot in working memory may contain such elements as "perform an armbar", "if that fails do a pendulum sweep", and "when I'm in mount perform an Ezekiel choke."
In each case, only three slots occupy the working memory. But the conceptual complexity of each unit is an order of magnitude greater in the experienced person's case. And the effect of the working memory is correspondingly "improved".
A consequence of this is that the power of your memory is domain specific (your memory is better in domains where you have more experience and interest).
Now that I'm rereading the passage, it seems the author was proposing a method of loci type approach, which is great for memorizing specific things. But not so much for general working memory OR for gaining domain-specific contextual knowledge that makes your current working memory more effective. And not sure how it relates to concentration. Sort of a fuzzy paragraph, much like the rest of the piece.
(I'm investigating various questions including of STWM, ideas, and networks or clusters of ideas.)
It's like a grocery bag for ideas. The more familiar they are the more you can represent them with a single abstract concept in your working memory that basically acts as a pointer to the various items contained in the concrete implementation.
Here's another reference you may enjoy:
What is STWM?
STWM: short-term working memory. A fascinating presentation by Sander van der Leeuw on the interactions of that and anthropology: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=80dR9Q2glgY
I am teaching a few people programming so they might have a better life (they asked me for that reason; I recommended to them to open a pizza restaurant in a small mountain village and be happy but he) and they keep asking me things like; 'why does Postgresql not contain a full search engine like elastic search, why elastic search? why do I need to install a queue, why is that not in Postgresql? why does this language library not have x, why not y? (also, why do I need to install a webserver, why is that not included? Mailserver? DNS server? etc)'. I know the answers and I know why it all is like that as I lived through the years when it was, then wasn't, then was, then wasn't but it does take me out of the flow and it makes me, sometimes, long for just switching on a computer and just having basic + assembly and that's it.
I can sort of get into deep work except my office is loud, cramped, and full of distractions :/
Mainly because Newport keeps contradicting himself. I remember a few paragraphs before the end of the book, he was saying how he didnt want to make a philosophical or moral point and just after said "having a deep life is the best way of living". The full book is like this.
Sure, they could be, but I would argue there is benefit to expanding them into longer books.
I haven't read this specific book, but have read several other "self-help" books and while the majority of them have shown repetitive themes, that same repetition is what ingrained the overall message the author is trying to disseminate. Reading a book over the course of weeks has a much more lasting effect on me, than probably any blog posts I've read.
I read Deep Work and didn't find anything Newport says in the book to be that profound, counterintuitive, eye-opening, etc. But it's a good book and I'm glad I read it because it's, idk, 2-300 pages of ideas, however mundane, that are simultaneously good to think about and easy to accidentally ignore. As a direct result to reading Deep Work, I made a few small changes that have had a positive impact on my life since. Now, did I _learn_ anything new from Deep Work? I don't think so, but it helped me focus on things that I think I already knew.
Books aren't all about information content.
Every single page is contradicting another in the book. This is because he tries to write a book from a single idea. A bit like if the top comment on this thread about "boring yourself to do deep work" would be converted into a 200 page book. Of course at the end, you eat yourself like a snake and you cannot find any more ideas to fill the pages.
That's it. Simple as that.
In a few hours your brain will be "fried". At that point checking email and messing around a little in social media might actually help you relax and get back into it after an hour so so.
Oh, yeah. Eat.
No coffee. Ever.
The same thing with coffee. It doesn't help me at all. If I'm sleepy, I sleep. You can not win fighting your body just like you can not win fighting nature.
I drink coffee.
I heard it said like this: "Drinking coffee is borrowing time from later today. Drinking alcohol is borrowing time from tomorrow."
I did go for many months without coffee because if headaches. So I know it is doable.
Are you willing to put this to the test?
Try one week without coffee.
Then the second week replace it with water.
Record how you feel.
>Humans did not evolve needing these stimulants.
We have had no time do adapt evolutionally to the different requirements of civilization. So I think this point is moot
(we are built to hunt and gather I understand).
His description of the necessary fight with the "inner critic" more or less lurking in everyone's mind - and especially in OCD/perfectionists - is really interesting and got to me much more than Flow (haven't read Deep Work tho).
 I guess I am so used to being distracted that I find I distract myself.
I was feeling terrible for a while and then I noticed I was doing strictly more difficult work, and faster, but that work had become routine and trivial by now, so the deep focus wasn't needed.
I think 15 minute break is necessary because it helps you to refocus and also prevents backache.
Disadvantages are that I'm tired sooner and it's not sustainable drink alcohol if I need to do something.
All-in-all, no practical solution....just interesting self-observation :)
Some jobs don't require as much cognitive overhead as others. Some jobs require creative skills. If you look closely at labor laws, the distinction is made between exempt employees and non-exempt employees. One type has volition to determine how the job they are to do is to be done, the other has others tell them what job they are to do and how they are to do it. One gets overtime (the ones doing) and one does not (the ones observing).
It's important more people learn to achieve flow and create content by while doing direct observing. Creating content comes "effortlessly" when in the flow because the judgement of the observation doesn't get in the way. The judgement is where all the work is.
Huh? I think we're getting a little too abstract here. Getting into a state of "flow" requires three things for me:
1. Work that doesn't suck. I gave my IDE the finger today. Double middle fingers right at my screen. What I was working on really sucked. I need to be working on something interesting.
2. Decent amount of caffeine
3. A song I can loop and listen to all day without it distracting me. Usually something electronic. Brain.fm's "Focus" setting also works.
Headphones in, caffeine consumed, and the hours can move by quickly. Without other interruptions of course.
While Flow was eye opening as a book..where I really experienced 'Flow' irl was when I started reading Godel Escher and Bach by Douglas Hofstader. I think it's a book I can pick up today or ten years from now and still experience 'Flow' as I did when I read it for the first time. What a gift!
I can never completely focus on anything these days because I am constantly focusing on the pain.
Does anyone else with chronic pain have advice for getting into a flow state without being interrupted by pain?