Challenges of getting into a ‘deep work’ state

Read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work for a refreshing take on the state of our minds in the 21st century. Also, the following video is a must watch if you think that social media could be impacting your attention span.

I’ve been noticing more and more lately how social media use has an effect on my attention span and I don’t like what I’m noticing.

I’m a freelance web developer in the evenings and I help businesses and organizations manage their web sites and other miscellaneous IT needs. I typically set aside 10 hours a week for freelance work so I need to make it count when I do sit down to work.

Starting to really notice a problem

Lately, during my freelance hours I’ve been noticing that when I come up across a problem that is not a quick and simple fix, my mind says “I’m outta here” and I have a reflex to jump to Twitter, reddit, or some other information junk food.

When I say reflex, I mean it in the most literal sense. An action that is performed as a response to a stimulus and without conscious thought. When a hard problem or situation that requires some deep thinking comes up, I can see this happening and it’s quite troubling.

I’ve always had love-hate relationships with social media (constantly quitting and rejoining). I think it’s time to cut the fat in some ways and remove all social media that isn’t being used as a means to serve some personal or professional goal (similar to how Cal Newport talks about it in Deep Work).

The information buffet line that social media serves up is rewiring us in a bad way. We run away from hard problems instead of coming at them head on. The sense of pleasure and accomplishment of sticking with a problem and seeing it through until it is solved has been replaced with the cheap, shallow gratification that social media offers us.

Social media companies want us to be consumers for life, constantly consuming the information on their platforms so they can aggregate data on us and sell it to advertisers. And we’re giving up one of our most valuable assets in the process: our time and attention.

I’ll end this rant by saying that I think the biggest challenge to entering a deep work state is social media. I struggle with my own social media usage and boundaries and I’m sure other people do as well.

The second biggest challenge is the sheer amount of notifications we all receive now from all of our devices. We all need to give ourselves some time to think and reflect once in a while.

I think as a society we need to take a look at what we’re doing as we could be heading down a path where significantly less people in the future will be capable of complex thought.

If you are a current social media user and have no problem controlling your attention span, kudos! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear how you do it.

Scene from the movie “Idiocracy” where many people are incapable of thinking things through.

What do you think?