Thoughts on 'Thinking tasks'

mcogilvie

Registered
And...I'm not clear on what your point is. At all.

It appears that your argument is that reducing distractions has no value, that we should not make any attempt to do so, and that it would, in some way, actually be wrong to attempt to do so. Is that what you're saying?

If not, can you clarify what you're saying?
The discussion has tended to conflate interruptions and distractions, but of course they are different. I have known people to be distracted by the the sun coming in the window, or claim they can only work with headphones on. Yes, I am a bit skeptical of such claims, but it's generally not my problem.

I am saying that interruptions are a part of life and work and are sometimes important or necessary. I also claim that we can get better at dealing with them, and that GTD has helped me a lot in getting better at handling them. I find that interruptions are less disruptive because I have tools to handle them, and distractions less an issue when I am clear about my work.

I dislike the "deep work" concept because it suggests an elitist stance towards other work, and seems to devalue the flashes of insight that I find can come any time to a mind at rest. Research and writing seem to me to be normal human activities; scientific reasoning is not some special way of thinking that can only be done in silent communion with the universe. I am a pragmatist and a meliorist. If "deep work" helps you, great. I have found GTD to be very valuable, "deep work" not so much.

"Do not say 'I will study when I have the time', for perhaps you will never have time." (Pirkei Avot 2:5)
 

mcogilvie

Registered
But you seem to actively reject and oppose any discussion of reducing interruptions and distractions. That's what I don't understand. We're here discussing work style and work organization. What's wrong with discussing that aspect of work?

Or is it just the word "deep" that you object to, and not the concept that some work benefits from uninterrupted focus?
True, I don't like the term "deep" in this context. "Deep" in my field is usually reserved for work of near-genius, as in "the spin-statistics theorem is a deep result of axiomatic quantum field theory." The concept of "uninterrupted" work seems unrealistic to me though. Fewer low-value interruptions seems like a desired outcome, but seeking no interruptions at all could easily become an excuse, or maybe a cry for help.
 

TesTeq

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But you seem to actively reject and oppose any discussion of reducing interruptions and distractions. That's what I don't understand. We're here discussing work style and work organization. What's wrong with discussing that aspect of work?

Or is it just the word "deep" that you object to, and not the concept that some work benefits from uninterrupted focus?
As I understand @mcogilvie the most irritating part of Cal Newport's idea is the "DEEP" part. How can a young professor write a book about best conditions for "DEEP" work when geniuses can do a "REALLY DEEP" work in awful conditions. The conclusion: Cal Newport is just a celebrity, so he must be WRONG.
 

Gardener

Registered
True, I don't like the term "deep" in this context. "Deep" in my field is usually reserved for work of near-genius, as in "the spin-statistics theorem is a deep result of axiomatic quantum field theory." The concept of "uninterrupted" work seems unrealistic to me though. Fewer low-value interruptions seems like a desired outcome, but seeking no interruptions at all could easily become an excuse, or maybe a cry for help.
But I don't think that anyone here has suggested seeking no interruptions at all. I think that you may have created that idea.

No interruptions at all for an hour, or a half-day, yes. But no interruptions, ever? I haven't seen anyone suggest that.

And I think that your rejection of "deep" is based on your context for that word, and is tangling the question of whether you do or don't approve of (ever) seeking (any) uninterrupted time. Forget "deep"; refer to it as focused work sessions or uninterrupted work sessions. Do you still disapprove of those concepts?
 

TesTeq

Registered
No. I have evidence that geniuses have produced masterpieces under very bad conditions though. Dickens and Defoe, for example.
I have an evidence that people win the main prize in the lottery. So I'll invest all my money in lottery tickets.
The point is: we don't know what Dickens and Defoe would write in better conditions. On the other hand there is plenty of scientific research confirming that interruptions reduce productivity and depth of thinking.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
As I understand @mcogilvie the most irritating part of Cal Newport's idea is the "DEEP" part. How can a young professor write a book about best conditions for "DEEP" work when geniuses can do a "REALLY DEEP" work in awful conditions. The conclusion: Cal Newport is just a celebrity, so he must be WRONG.
Please don't put words in my mouth. Both you and others here have tended to exaggerate my position. There are examples in human history of extraordinary things emerging from periods of isolation and withdrawal from the world, and extraordinary things accomplished using time snatched from very full and busy lives. I'm not saying Cal Newport is wrong, but just because something works for him doesn't make it universal truth.
 

Gardener

Registered
Please don't put words in my mouth. Both you and others here have tended to exaggerate my position. There are examples in human history of extraordinary things emerging from periods of isolation and withdrawal from the world, and extraordinary things accomplished using time snatched from very full and busy lives. I'm not saying Cal Newport is wrong, but just because something works for him doesn't make it universal truth.
I STILL can't tell whether you are thoroughly opposed to the idea of trying to put together periods of uninterrupted focus. Maybe I'm one of the people that you think is exaggerating your position, but your position is unclear.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I STILL can't tell whether you are thoroughly opposed to the idea of trying to put together periods of uninterrupted focus. Maybe I'm one of the people that you think is exaggerating your position, but your position is unclear.
My position is that in the real world nobody is guaranteed absolutely uninterrupted time, so I think it is unrealistic to expect it. Minimizing interruptions, particularly those of low value, is a viable goal for many people. Some people will be "interrupted" all the time because that's the nature of their jobs. Sometimes it's part of the job description, but it could be due to something like a culture of interruption.

Based on my own experience and the reports of others, I believe GTD offers tools for most people to deal effectively with interruptions and distractions, and encourages the development of an ability to regain focus quickly. I believe that clarity is much more important a distraction-free environment. When I am at my best, I can deal gracefully with surprise and return to what I was doing easily. When I am unclear about what I need to do, distractions and interruptions weigh much more heavily on me.

As for creative thinking, I find that insight doesn't schedule well. Sometimes fifteen minutes is enough to do what hours of concentrated effort couldn't do. Perhaps the sudden insight needed to be preceded by hours of effort, but so what? The most important thing is to capture insight when it comes, again something that GTD emphasizes. The habit of thinking about important issues is more useful to me than scheduling time to think. The habit of working every day on research, even just for a bit, is similarly important. I think all this means my experiences validate David Allen more than Cal Newport. YMMV.
 

Gardener

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My position is that in the real world nobody is guaranteed absolutely uninterrupted time, so I think it is unrealistic to expect it.
Nobody is guaranteed light, heat, or a computer that works either, but most employers strive pretty hard to make those things happen, and I suspect that you wouldn't speak in opposition to them, in the same way that you seem to be speaking in opposition to focused work.

OK, I'll stop trying to figure out what your position is, and move on elsepost to discussing how to achieve uninterrupted time.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Nobody is guaranteed light, heat, or a computer that works either, but most employers strive pretty hard to make those things happen, and I suspect that you wouldn't speak in opposition to them, in the same way that you seem to be speaking in opposition to focused work.

OK, I'll stop trying to figure out what your position is, and move on elsepost to discussing how to achieve uninterrupted time.
I am skeptical of the value and desirability of scheduling large blocks of time for "deep work." I tried it, and found that it was too much like meetings where only good ideas are welcome: "OK, time to have a good idea." I am also skeptical of the possibility and desirability of uninterruptible time. My personal experience is that GTD does not need the addition of "scheduling deep work." I am, of course, in favor of being able to focus on one's work, and I believe clarity is more important for that than the elimination of interruptions and distractions. I do make flexible plans for blocks of time to work on various things, but it is more of a virtuous habit than a primary goal. In short, lots of David Allen, Cal Newport not so much. Clear enough?
 

Gardener

Registered
I am skeptical of the value and desirability of scheduling large blocks of time for "deep work." I tried it, and found that it was too much like meetings where only good ideas are welcome: "OK, time to have a good idea." I am also skeptical of the possibility and desirability of uninterruptible time. My personal experience is that GTD does not need the addition of "scheduling deep work." I am, of course, in favor of being able to focus on one's work, and I believe clarity is more important for that than the elimination of interruptions and distractions. I do make flexible plans for blocks of time to work on various things, but it is more of a virtuous habit than a primary goal. In short, lots of David Allen, Cal Newport not so much. Clear enough?
Not really, no, but I'm going to let it go. :)
 

TesTeq

Registered
Please don't put words in my mouth. Both you and others here have tended to exaggerate my position. There are examples in human history of extraordinary things emerging from periods of isolation and withdrawal from the world, and extraordinary things accomplished using time snatched from very full and busy lives. I'm not saying Cal Newport is wrong, but just because something works for him doesn't make it universal truth.
I'm sorry. I always try to understand things that I don't understand. So I paraphrase what somebody is saying to discover the essence - the essence as I understand it. Sometimes I exaggerate - not to offend anybody but to get a clear "NO" from my interlocutor.

Cal Newport's definition of "deep work":
"Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate."

Cal Newport thinks that distraction-free environment help us do more and better. That's all. YMMV.
 

Oogiem

Registered
As for creative thinking, I find that insight doesn't schedule well. Sometimes fifteen minutes is enough to do what hours of concentrated effort couldn't do. Perhaps the sudden insight needed to be preceded by hours of effort, but so what? The most important thing is to capture insight when it comes, again something that GTD emphasizes. The habit of thinking about important issues is more useful to me than scheduling time to think. The habit of working every day on research, even just for a bit, is similarly important.
This is the best summary of what I believe about deep work as well. I also am disturbed by the attitude that seems to be part of Cal Newport's work that seems to imply that other types of work are less important and that you can only do "good" work if you devote hours to it in a concentrated fashion. I know that for me that is false. I often get my best ideas on database design or solutions to sticky programming problems while filling sheep water tanks, or spinning wool while watching a simple mindless TV shows. And I don't consider the work of mucking a barn or digging a ditch to be lesser than the work of programming or research.

I also agree that one of the biggest GTD benefits is that when the BFO or breakthrough occurs while standing knee deep is muddy ditch water you have a system and a plan for how to capture that information so that when you are next in the context where you can use it you have it available. Whether it's a voice recorder, a pen and paper or something else the capture habit is critical to making this all work.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Well, folks....we are all different. I have found that deep work blocks are pivotal for me to achieve the type of results I want and are expected of me. If deep work blocks don't work for you - fine. If you feel that one should always be open to distractions - fine. But again -- we are all different. I just become very irritated when someone actually tells me that I am not really doing GTD by scheduling deep work blocks. It has not happened in this discussion, but it has happened.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
And I am sorry....there is a multitude of crap admin work that is necessary and I have to do it. But is IS shallow work using Cal's terminology. It has no lasting value and does nothing to help me in my science and making an impact on our world. GTD helps me manage both deep work and shallow work.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
And I am sorry....there is a multitude of crap admin work that is necessary and I have to do it. But is IS shallow work using Cal's terminology. It has no lasting value and does nothing to help me in my science and making an impact on our world. GTD helps me manage both deep work and shallow work.
And that's illustrates one of the problems I have with the "deep" designator. The opposite of deep is "shallow" but some of that work has, for example, a direct impact on the careers of younger colleagues. I am pretty cynical about a lot of administrative stuff (I think most curriculum committees could be usefully replaced by three blind mice), but there are a lot of things that need somebody to make them happen. If I start resenting that work and neglecting it (been there), I will end up in bad shape with everything I have to do (done that). What David Allen says resonates with me: it may or may not be important, but if it's on your mind, you have to deal with it (got the t-shirt-yea!). Bit if it works for you, go for it.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I never said I would not do this type of work. Of course I would if it is important for some aspect of a junior colleague's progress. But i still believe it is shallow work.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I never said I would not do this type of work. Of course I would if it is important for some aspect of a junior colleague's progress. But i still believe it is shallow work.
Yeah, but if I think of it that way, I resent it, then I neglect it, and then my life is less good. So pure selfishness demands that I treat it like all the other stuff I have to do, and not linger over it.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I think it is best if we just agree that we strongly disagree. Enough said by me. Done.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Cal Newport's definition of "deep work":
"Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate."

Cal Newport thinks that distraction-free environment help us do more and better. That's all. YMMV.
I've found that scheduling Tuesday and Thursday mornings to push my cognitive skills to their limits typically doesn't work for me. Sometimes my cognitive skills don't want to be pushed that hard, and I have to settle for getting things done.
Or to say it another way, I'm not able to have a hard-to-replicate effort twice a week. Am I making fun of the concept of "deep work?" Yeah, I am a little. I'm just a poor schmo trying to get his work done. If "deep work" appeals, go for it.
 
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