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Socially Distracted

Too busy to be bored, too busy to work

Should Madonna decide to put a contemporary spin on her 80’s hits, she’d likely re-envision her material desires to now be a “digital girl in a digital world.” From Instagram stories to political tweet storms, and even seemingly innocuous emails, our daily reality is indeed of the digital era.

Is digital just a different way of doing things? Send a text instead of telephoning. Swipe through an e-reader rather than turn pages in a book. Spice up your photos with filters and share them on all your social media profiles. Swipe, tap, scroll.

There’s an app for that

There’s not too much you can’t do online. So many digital tools, all designed to help us be more efficient and productive. And some are—but others are purely distracting. The problem lies in what they’re distracting us from: the good stuff. In his book of the same name, Cal Newport calls it “Deep Work”—our professional activities which require focus. Deep work is what we do to bring value to our companies, and to our clients.

At the other end of the spectrum is “shallow work”: the tasks or functions which require less specialized skill or knowledge, that could be done be many people, or even automated. We tend to have more shallow work on our desks early in our careers. Most of us retain some amount of shallow work on our daily to-do list, such as reading and returning emails, scanning social media for trending issues and competitor posts, chiming in on internal messaging systems to share opinions, resources and the random giphy.

The more shallow work we do (whether it’s wading through email or tagging friends in a few Facebook memes), the less deep work we can do, because we’re too busy. Think about email: if you send 40 emails/day, and receive 120, you’re looking at 160 emails total. If you’re super-efficient and can read and manage (delete, forward, respond) each email in one minute, that’s still over two-and-a-half hours a day spent on email. Add in voicemail, texts, tweets, and other communication channels, and you’ve lost half your workday, without getting to the good stuff.

Victoria Gray, Principal at Vigeo Marketing Consulting, shared her insights around Deep Work at a recent #LeaderLounge event. An avid reader of thick science fiction novels, Victoria started to question her declining ability to get lost in a book over the past few years, and turned to research for answers. She discovered Newport’s work, and the thinking that the rapid-fire clicks and swipes of digital communications has fragmented the human attention span into diminishing pieces. Victoria likens deep work to diamonds: both have value, and both are in scarce supply (yet have consistent demand).

Deep work could help you and your career thrive in today’s distracted environment. Follow Cal Newport’s “rules” for minimizing distractions and staying focused in the deep work.

Cal Newport’s Rules for Deep Work

  1. Work deeply: stay focused and stick to routines. Willpower is finite, and a regular schedule gives less opportunity to wander off into digital distractions. Find a scheduling style that works for you, and your profession—Newport describes the possibilities of monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic scheduling.

  2. Embrace boredom: give your brain downtime, rather than Candy Crush. Resist the urge to check email and social media whenever there’s a spare minute—instead, schedule “distraction breaks” and save the surfing until that time. Waiting in a lineup can be a pleasurable break rather than a frantic checking of multiple emails and social channels.

  3. Quit social media: re-evaluate your social media use, for better and worse. Increasingly, it’s designed to get—and keep—our attention, which keeps us away from other pursuits. Don’t fall trap to the “any benefit” thinking—that if there’s the smallest gain from something, you need it. Check yourself on the downsides as well as the advantages.

  4. Drain the shallows: schedule your time to include both shallow work and deep work. Be realistic with time frames for different tasks, and consider the shallow work for being critical to be done, and done by you. Deep work is what affects the bottom line, is where you add value and do that skilled work for which you were hired.


Deep Work by Cal Newport is a combination of storytelling and actionable advice, and makes a strong case for how deep work improves results in almost any profession. Newport believes that transforming our minds and habits is no easy feat, but leads to mastering complicated information and producing better results.

Interested in attending #LeaderLounge? Check out our upcoming sessions at leaderlounge.ca.


Catherine.jpgCatherine Ducharme is Director of Client Services with Smart, Savvy + Associates’ Smart Savvy Academy. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Catherine to discuss your organization's training needs.

Catherine Ducharme

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