Excelling, Not Simply Surviving, In The “New Normal”


Please enjoy this insightful blog written by Epicoach partner, David Newman.

Many moons ago, I was spending yet another late night in the office, having eaten yet another delivered dinner at the desk. I had burned through the evening hours, leaving no time to go to the gym, to de-stress, to relax, before heading home to sleep. Up the next morning. Rinse, repeat. I had no way to turn my brain off, and I would wake in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, thinking about all the things that I hadn’t yet done and all the deadlines I wasn’t sure I could meet. You know that feeling caused by dry heaves? I had it all the time—until I learned how to do something about it. I adopted a ritual of looking ahead at the calendar, thinking about the next few days’ deliverables, and composing a to-do list at the end of each workday. I found this to be a great way to deal with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. The act of letting all those thoughts stream out of my head, through my fingers, and onto the page was a great way to clear my mind and reduce worry. When I walked back into the office the next morning, I could pick up that list, re-load my brain, and be sure about what I needed to tackle first.

While reading Cal Newport’s important book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, I recognized that this practice had a name—the “Shutdown Complete” ritual. Little did I know that “switching off”, as I’d been doing, is a fundamental component of deep work: it allows us to excel, to produce at our highest levels when we switch back on again.

Deep work, the ability to concentrate and truly produce, is an essential skill for the modern Knowledge Economy. This skill is becoming increasingly valuable in our world, while at the same time becoming rare—a classic market mismatch. This book is full of rules—specific, well-researched, action steps—for helping us implement deep work into our schedules. As it has become the “new normal” for many of us to work from home, we need rituals like “Shutdown Complete” more than ever, to help us transition out of work mode at a time when the boundaries of the working day are no longer clear.

As I read more of Newport’s book, I realized that several of his ideas crystalized concepts that I inherently understood, but had not found the words to properly articulate, such as:

  • Don’t let busyness be a proxy for productivity. In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn to an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner. In the business world, for example, do we think that the time we leave the office each day (often highly visible to others) should be a good proxy for how hard we are working, or how committed we are? Instead of checking the clock when you leave the office, or worrying about the number of unread messages in your inbox, check your “shut-down” list from the night before. Did you accomplish your critical objectives?
  • Quit social media, or only adopt a technology tool if its positive impacts substantially outweigh its negative impacts. Use what Newport calls a craftsman approach to tool selection: identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life, and have the confidence to jettison social media that consumes your time in non-productive or even harmful ways. I too am constantly distracted and need the disciplines and habits that this book identifies. I am SO tempted to check the latest score in the soccer game I know is just a click away on my laptop. Even as I write this, exercising my own deep-work capabilities, my eyes keep flicking to my email inbox and my ears catch the “ping” notifications of LinkedIn messages and IMs. Or they would, if I had not turned them all off before I started writing. Like most people, I am bombarded with the desire to do anything other than work deeply. But I’ve found that taking a deliberate break—even for just a few hours—from the ever-present distractions of social media, electronic communications, and notifications can help me find the focus necessary to produce a high quality, impactful work product. Now that’s real productivity.

Did you balk at that last recommendation? Consider reading Newport’s book to find out why you should give this, or some of his other recommendations, a try!

At Epicoach, we focus on the whole picture, the whole you. The ability to work deeply, a skill that helps you get valuable things done, is much more powerful than most people understand. And it’s bigger than just your job: a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.

With all of today’s distractions, you may be struggling to find the time and the focus to produce your best work. We can help you to do more than just survive our “new normal”. Get in touch with me at david@epi.coach, and let us show you how to excel.