Deep Work vs Shallow Work: the situation of the knowledge modern workers
“Deep work”, a definition coined by Cal Newport himself is, “professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit”. The efforts made at this level of concentration create new value, improve our skills, and are difficult to replicate. Basically, deep work enables us to “squeeze” the value of our intellectual capacity down to the last drop. It is no coincidence that many influential figures, both past and present, have a commitment to focussed work in common: to mention a key example, Carl Jung, who even built a tower where he spent periods of deep intellectual isolation. Still the approach of many intellectuals of the past is very different from today’s “knowledge workers”, who have an increased tendency to be distracted by our omnipresent networking systems, such as e-mail, sms, WhatsApp and other instant messaging services, social media and digital feeds. The incremental spread of these systems and their ubiquitous accessibility, has drastically disjointed the attention of most knowledge workers, and this fragmented state of attention is in complete contrast to deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted focus. However we mustn’t assume that people at work today simply while away their time daydreaming: quite the opposite. Nowadays people seem, and feel busier than ever. So where does this discrepancy come from? To explain it, we need to introduce the concept of “shallow work”, meaning logistical activities that can be done without much thinking, things that we often do while we are distracted. These activities don’t usually add any value to the world and are easy to do. Basically, they are the opposite of deep work. So in an age of networking systems, more and more often, knowledge workers tend to substitute deep work with a shallow alternative, an attitude which is very difficult to change, for many reasons.