Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

Deep Work Vs. Shallow Work

Deep Work

When we are working on any task, we can approach it in two ways. Like it is ‘deep work’ or like it is ‘shallow work.’

Let’s look at an example. Imagine it’s a Sunday, and you are starting the new week tomorrow. You have to plan what you want to accomplish next week. How would you approach it?

If you were to approach it with a ‘shallow work’ mindset, this is what you probably would do on Monday morning.

You would open your laptop or your notebook. Jog your memory to remember tasks that need your attention, or flip through your diary to review your notes and remind yourself of the open tasks to complete. Then, you do a brain dump of all the stuff you remember and make a to-do list – Prepare the proposal, talk to this person, complete the report, deal with this issue, etc. While doing this, a few colleagues pass by, and you say hi to them. There are a few notifications on your phone; you check on what those are. Finally, your ‘to-do” list is complete, and you feel you have your plan to get through the week. 

In contrast, this is what you would do if you were to approach the task with a ‘deep work’ mindset.

You set aside 1 hour to focus on your plan for the week, and you let your teammates know you are unavailable for any tasks during that time. You then pull out your yearly and monthly goals and any Management Information pack and systematically review yourself on where you are vis-a-vis your plan. You do this by taking notes- on what you completed, what is yet to be completed, what is going well, and what is not going well. While doing all this, you ask yourself a series of questions to answer.

  • What could I have done better?
  • Is there something I need to change to get better outcomes?
  • Are there any new skills I need to work on? etc

You pull all this together and develop a detailed plan for the week. You then lock time-slots in your calendar to deal with all the tasks from your plan. Before you realize it, the hour you set aside for this activity is over, and you are ready for your next task.

Deep Work Vs. Shallow Work

Shallow work is work without focus- where you don’t commit significant cognitive effort. These are the activities that are done superficially and are easy to do but do not really help you improve your skills or competencies. 

On the other hand, deep work involves intense focus and concentration. You work your brain, and you expend cognitive energy in doing any task, and in doing so, you end up developing your skills and competencies. Interestingly, when you do deep work, you lose track of time. You tend to be in a state of flow.

Two things are vital if you are ambitious and want consistent progress in your career.

  • the skill to learn a new skill fast and
  • the skill of being productive- being an effective executive. 

Deep work is necessary if you want to be good at both. When you train yourself to commit to deep work consistently, you will be more productive and better at learning. 

So, here’s food for thought for the weekend. 

Ask yourself this question for an honest answer- Am I doing enough deep work?

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