Embrace the Suck, I mean, Boredom

In the last post, I summarized Cal Newport’s first rule of deep work and his suggestions on how to foster it. Now, I want lay out his next rule.

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

You need to wean your mind from dependence on distraction (157). To strengthen your focus you must cut out the “fluff.” It’s like when you begin exercising: it is not enough to only go to the gym, you must clean up your eating as well. Here are his suggestions on how to embrace boredom.

By Taking Break from Focus, Not Distraction

Newport suggests having focus, not distraction, set the agenda of your life. Think about it like this: you’re taking breaks from focus, not distraction. When you are constantly distracted, our brains develop a “taste” for it (160). To make things simple, look at it this way: the internet is synonymous for seeking distracting stimuli (161). To combat against the distracting-nature of the internet, schedule in advance when you will use the internet and avoid it altogether outside these times. The problem isn’t the internet per se. The problem is the constant switching. When you use the internet regularly, you constantly switch from low stimuli high-value activities (deep work) to high-stimuli, low-value activities (checking email).  The slightest temptation will pull you away from your focus, then (162).

Newport encourages all workers to have focus be the tenor of their lives. He provides some practical suggestions for how to do this.

  1.  You should schedule times to use the internet. Even if you have to answer a lot of email, schedule those times. Then, you must keep the times NOT on the internet absolutely free of the internet. Remember, this is like strength training for your mind.
  2. You must also schedule your internet use at home. The gains you make at work can be lost by excessive use at home. So set a rule for your internet use at home as well. My rule: I can only use the internet the first fifteen minutes of every hour. 

By Working Like Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt often had bursts of high concentration when working on a project. Consider short times of high focus.

By Meditating Productively

Meditating helps you get into deep work. Meditating, however, is not merely about productivity. It is about doing important, and meaningful, things. Christians should have an affinity to Newport’s advice here, as meditation is an important spiritual discipline. For productive meditation on a work problem, Newport encourages two things:

  1. Be wary of distractions and looping: When trying to meditate on a problem, you will be distracted. When your mind wanders, pull your mind’s focus back onto the issue at hand. Looping occurs when you think about the same aspects of a project over, and over, and over again. Looping will short-circuit your breakthroughs. In order to keep from looping, look to the next step.
  2. Structure your Deep Thinking: It’s important to have structure to your deep thinking, otherwise, you can get caught up in looping. To minimize looping, consider doing the following:
    1. Carefully review the relevant variables for solving the problem: What factors are necessary for solving this problem? What factors have already come into play?
    2. Ask a next-step question: Develop a question which can help you move onto the next stage of the project.

By Memorizing a Deck of Cards

Memorizing a deck of cards will help strengthen your mind. Here are the steps to memorizing a deck of cards. Remember, don’t do it by rote memorization. Do it by cementing images in your mind (77).

  1. Pick 5 rooms in your house to create a mental image.
  2. Create a mental walk through of these rooms.
  3. Pick out 10 items for each room to focus on being in that room.
  4. Establish an order in which you look at these items in each room.
  5. Add two more items (to get to 52).
  6. Practice this mental exercise of walking through the rooms, and looking at the images in each of the rooms.
  7. Begin associating a memorable person or thing with each of the 52 cards. (Try to maintain one connection).
  8. Practice this by pulling the cards from the desk and knowing who belongs to that card.
  9. Begin the walk through of the house.
  10. As you encounter each item, look at the next card from the deck and “match” that person/thing doing something memorable near that item. (For example, if the first item is the mat in your entry, and first card is the King of Diamonds, you might picture Donald Trump wiping mud off of his shoes).

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