Work to the depths, work in the shallows
I have been thinking of Deep work and Shallow work recently.
For years, I have been excellent at deep work, my mind naturally tunes out anything that is “boring” (read repetitive) and I can get into flow on creative and challenging problems – sometimes in an instant. The world will fade away and I am in bliss. Ideas flow, solutions come to life, things get done. Training for a decade at a management consulting firm, where meeting slots come in 15 mins and time is literally money, accentuated my natural tendency to focus on the high value-adding work.
“Wisdom” these days would applaud my ability. There are a lot of books and articles out there that ask you to cut out the shallow work.
But with the increasing complexity of our life, we don’t always talk about what happens to this shallow work that you are expected to cut out. Flight bookings, house management, investment decisions, tech support for family members, video editing of family vacation photos, picking a restaurant for date night…and if you are a parent, add in meal planning, grocery shopping (and then cooking the meal and posting the picture on Instagram ;-)), finding age appropriate entertainment (have you realized how terribly inconsistent age rating websites are), and then pre-reading kids’ books because you don’t trust rating systems, organizing play dates, zoom calls, sports and music lessons…I mean, the list feels endless. Oh, and I have not started on all the activities with friends, and the amount of “organizing” it takes, especially if they live across time zones.
I mean, I could delete all this “shallow” work from my life. But should I? If I want a full life, am I ok to let any of these activities fall by the wayside, or delegate them so entirely that you might as well be living someone else’s version of your life?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that time spent with family and friends is not precious, or that it needs to be listed out like a chore list – they truly are to be cherished.
My point is that when a family or group of friends has a good time, or when your life runs smoothly because passports are renewed on time, tickets are booked and you have the right insurance when you need it, someone is working behind the scenes to make sure you have a good time. And that your mind and time are freed up for you to pursue your professional passions. Who is that, in your life?
Let’s not forget the people who do this shallow work so we can focus on the deep work.