Are you doing Deep Work?
American Actor and Comedian Steve Martin was once asked for his secret of success “He said that there is no secret but if you are thinking how can I be really good, people will come to you. This is because you will become so good that people cannot ignore you.” The phrase in bold inspired Author and Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport’s book “So Good they can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.” The question then is how you become so good people cannot ignore you. The answer according to me lies in the title of Professor Newport’s another book “Deep Work”.
What is Deep Work you might wonder and why is it relevant to us? It is because one of the key issues facing most financial professionals today is that we indulge in a lot of shallow work. We do shallow work as we are busy and distracted all the time. Deep Work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Professor Newport says “Deep Work will make you better at what you do, let you achieve more in less time and provide the true fulfilment that comes from the mastery of a skill. In short, deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive economy”. I must admit that I have practiced deep work regularly and have experienced its superpower (can vouch for its effectiveness).
If it is so powerful, why do many of us not practice it. This is because there are too many distractions. In this profession, we are exposed to too many distractions such as:
- Reading and Listening to Financial Pornography (including market commentaries by experts)
- Worrying about all the things happening and the ones not happening
- Responding to emails
- Being Present on Social Media
- Notifications on our Phone
It is because of all the above that we end up doing shallow work or superficial work. The key is to avoid distractions consciously and setting out certain blocks of time every day to do deep work. Time Blocks are thus power tools of time management. You should create blocks of time when you are not distracted at all. When I do deep work every day, I do not check emails, messages, or take calls. My phone is not even near me. I avoid social media and my total time spent on it is not more than 5-10 minutes per week. I am very protective of my deep work time and it is only when I can do it every day, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Yes, there are days when I do not make the cut but that is ok. The goal is not to be perfect but progress. The deep work for me is thinking, writing, reading books, building a library of content, designing, and developing a product. Besides my deep work, I have scheduled meetings and calls. The deep work for you can vary depending on the role that you are playing within your firm but for most real professionals boils down to thinking, writing (even if it’s a note to a client), reading books, practicing conversations, listening to people who chase excellence, mastering the 1st Meeting and so on.
Professor Newport says that there are 4 ways to get into Deep Work:
- The Monk Mode: The Monk says “No” to everything other than their work. They have huge blocks of time to do their deep work. This one is not for most people and rarely for people in our profession.
- Bimodal: The Bimodal philosophy is one when you are fully engaged in deep work and then completely disengaged. It is like Switching in and then Switching out. An example is practicing loads of conversations in a week and doing nothing during the weekend.
- Rhythmic: This is where you establish a rhythm by saying “I am going to do my deep work every morning between 9 am and 12 pm”. Jerry Seinfeld had a rhythm of writing a joke every day. When asked how to be great, Jerry said “Write a joke every day and don’t break the rhythm”. Marketer and Author Seth Godin does the same by writing a short blog post every day. This is a way to create depth in your work and build solid skills.
- Journalistic: A journalist always works on deadlines. A big story came up and a journalist must write about it in an hour. He must immediately get into the deep work zone as there is no time for distractions.
Reflect on each one of these and see which one best works for you. You can also create the one most suitable for you by combining a few. The philosophy that works best for me is a combination of Rhythmic (70%) and the Monk Mode (30%). Yes, there were times when I was writing for the media that I had to follow a Journalistic way, but now I plan my work way in advance. Like Seth Godin, I write everyday even if it is just 300 words. By the way, the fewer words you write, the more difficult and time consuming it is. However, this is where my best thinking also comes in.
Finally, Deep work is very rare and thus extremely valuable (it will continue to be valuable). Very few people in our profession are practicing it if any. Doing Deep Work in regular time blocks everyday will give you an edge over most people in our profession. I can bet a million bucks that you will become so good that no one will be able to Ignore You.