We’re never more productive than when we’re obsessively focused on something. The product of focused work can be great: solving a hard problem, launching and growing a company, writing a book or blog, creating music, cultivating strong relationships… One reward of that intense productivity is something elusive that we don’t often talk about: joy.
Being in such a productive state however, doesn’t come easily. It’s even more difficult when we have endless distractions at our fingertips. Two posts this morning made me think about this from different perspectives.
The first was by a dear friend, a renowned composer who expressed his joy at having finished a very intense period of work. He marveled at the release after being deeply focused for over days and weeks and having the pleasure of reflection now that he was done. He expressed his gratitude to family and friends and how extraordinarily happy and satisfied he is.
The second was this seemingly unrelated post by Cal Newport, discussing productivity decreases in the U.S. workforce, referencing an article he had read article in the Washington Post.
In his post, Dr. Newport posits a theory of correlation between a massive drop in productivity growth from 2010 to 2015, particularly in the ‘knowledge work’ sector, and the use of email. In the comments section, he notes that email is his “placeholder” for the gamut of distraction that comes to us through digital channels.
We find it increasingly difficult to focus when we’re constantly connected, seeking (often subconsciously) tiny shots of gratification from our devices and content feeds. It’s become embedded in our habits.
Without focus, we can’t create. And this is a major problem, because this knowledge workforce we’re referring to does just that – creates.
I thought about the difference between deep work (by the way, the title of Dr. Newport’s latest best-seller) like my composer buddy had just experienced, and the fragmented work so many of us experience day to day.
Could this be one of the secrets: that to break the addictive micro-pleasures of digital distraction, one must discover (repeatedly?) real satisfaction and joy by getting something done?
Getting something done. Creating something where there was nothing before. Words, music, code, a business report – whatever our work might be, when we create, the satisfaction is far greater than consuming a Facebook post, Buzzfeed article, email or text. The joy can transform us and compel to produce more.
But we need to experience and live it in order to believe it. We need to get to work.
So how do we convince our mind and body that deep work has great value when we’re continually giving attention to our subconscious prompts of what feels urgent, rather than what’s important? What is the cost of that?
We spend a lot of time here at Freedom thinking about these questions and how we can empower people to tap their deep creative selves. This excerpt from our Manifesto sums it up:
“We love Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, messaging, email, apps… But when our creative energy is continually interrupted to check, watch, listen, read…the habit of producing gets overwhelmed by the habit of consuming.
That habit of consuming – of nibbling away at the bits of info that come our way every minute of every day, can be controlled.
With the desire and the right tools, new habits of focus and creativity can replace the habit of distraction.”
We’re excited every day when we hear from our Freedom community about the powerful writing session they’ve just finished, the code written in the last 3 hours, the composing, studying or undistracted conversation they’ve just experienced.
We see it: joy.
We’re all capable of it if. Joy is a product of creating. To create we need to focus. To focus, sometimes we need help.