September 1, 2021
A few months ago, during our church’s family camp event at Beaver Creek State Park, I had the opportunity to spend a large amount of time studying and reading in preparation for my sermon. Because we were in the mountains, I had no access to email, social media, texts, calls, or anything else that might distract me. I spent 7 or 8 hours a day reading, thinking, writing, and reflecting. It was a unique experience for me, because I rarely have large chunks of time to spend working in a focused way without any huge distractions. This is especially true because I am easily distracted and tend to struggle with uninterrupted, focused work. There were two things I noticed about this experience. First, I enjoyed it. Spending so much time intensely working on a single sermon was fun and genuinely enriching. Second, the work I did was some of the best I’ve ever done. I know some of that is subjective because it is research and thinking, but I am confident in this assessment. I wondered at the phenomenon and have tried to replicate it in my regular life with mixed success. Over the last few days, I began reading a book that explained what I experienced. “Deep Work” describes an increasingly rare thing in our world, where distraction is constant. Deep work is what happens when you are able to focus intensely and deeply over a long enough time to produce a higher quality product. This is contrary to the trend in our world, where we tend to spread our attention thin, with all sorts of things happening simultaneously. It’s easy to miss that we actually lose something significant when we keep ourselves distracted constantly. I enjoy audiobooks, which I listen to at two or three times the regular speed. I sometimes read summaries, because I am too busy to read everything I want to read. The problem with this approach compared to regular reading is that the time spent thinking as you read or work gives you a deeper understanding of what you read. Studies have shown that when people work deeply and in a focused way, they tend to be happier in general. Constant distraction and shallow tasks lead to lower levels of contentment and higher stress. People are wired to focus on tasks and work deeply. Whether it’s reading, cooking, quilting, painting, repairing machinery, or anything else that is a task involving focused work. This doesn’t mean that distraction or shallow focus has no value in our lives. It’s important to relax and recharge. However, we tend to live our lives there. We spend a few seconds glancing at every Facebook post before jumping to the next or a minute watching a news story or texting. These diversions are easy, but tons of research points to the fact that they lead to depression and dissatisfaction in life. The cure is as easy as planning focused time on hobbies or reading or even working on an important task at work in an uninterrupted manner for a few hours at a time. Deep work is hard, but it is rewarding in a long term way.