“Our ‘Aha moments’ are literally quiet brain signals.”
I like this observation from Dr. David Rock I came across in a NYT article on the impact of modern distractions.
With modern work culture wired for always-on communication, finding the space and time for “Aha moments” is a challenge. We have to be deliberate if we want to create space for deep work over shallow work, an idea Cal Newport helped popularize with his “Deep Work” book in 2016, and expanded upon more recently:
“E-mail introduced this problem of communication-driven distraction, but Slack pushed it to a new extreme. We both love and hate Slack because this company built the right tool for the wrong way to work.”
A study from RescueTime found that most workers don’t go six minutes without checking email or Slack; 35% of workers check communication every three minutes throughout the work day.
This is consistent with a report from Microsoft on how people use their office-productivity software — 60% of aggregate time spent involves communication (Teams, email, chat, videoconference, etc.), leaving only 40% of time for creation (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.).
It’s hard to create big ideas if we’re always in the minutia. One of biggest shifts in my own work schedule has been learning to carve out 90 minutes of interrupted deep work time at the start of every work day. I’ve learned to treat it as sacred space, because it’s always the most productive time of my week.
Easier said than done, particularly when working as part of an always-on organization.
As Jeff Maurer observed about Slack etiquette at the office:
“You can mute notifications: Just go to ‘settings’ > ‘notifications’>’never get promoted’; and turn the slider to ‘on’.”
But it is possible to establish new norms. A software company called Convictional decided not to use any messaging tools like Slack and made all meetings optional. Another software company called Pathway introduced a “Zen Day” each week where they ask employees to put Slack in DnD mode to snooze notifications.
And I’ve collaborated recently with a Norwegian startup called reMarkable that makes tablets designed for deep work, without Slack or other modern distractions.
There’s a line I’ve always liked in the 1927 poem, Desiderata:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: