How often have you checked your email today? How about your text messages? And Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? If you’re like most people, then the answer is somewhere around too many to count.
Americans unlock our phones an average of 80 times per day. At any given moment, we have seemingly infinite distractions vying for our attention. And those distractions also happen to be very rewarding for our brains—every like, retweet, or comment we get on a social post provides positive reinforcement urging us to check for them again in as little as a few minutes. The problem with these rewards, though, and these distractions as a whole, is that they’re causing us to put our focus on shallow work. In other words, work that doesn’t involve deep concentration, focus, or abstract thinking.
In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, he discusses the importance of disconnecting from our distractions and the shallow work they provide in order to practice what he’s coined as “deep work.”
Deep work, in Newport’s words, is described as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.” Essentially, that means doing work without surfing the web, checking email, scrolling through your feeds, or engaging in any other distraction from the task at hand.
Newport’s research-backed argument examines the cognitive impact these shallow work distractions have, and it’s more than a little alarming: “We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention—where your regular workflow is constantly broken up by taking frequent breaks to just check-in with social media—that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration.”
Perhaps this is why some of the most accomplished people in history, like Barack Obama, J.K. Rowling, and Carl Jung to name a few, are well-known to lock themselves away in quiet rooms for extended periods of time to do their best work.
This method of disconnecting ourselves from digital distractions and focusing on delving deep into our work couldn’t be more relevant to designing a presentation. For a presentation to be as effective, empowering, and motivating as it can be, it needs to develop from a place of deep concentration rather than shallow, distracted work.
A presentation designed amidst constant distraction will show it. It won’t have the depth of storytelling, comprehensive design, and compelling delivery that a presentation developed from a place of deep focus and concentration has. Moreover, designing your presentation in a state of deep work allows you to think through more avenues in a more profound and complete way, which inevitably provides you more insight into potential obstacles, new ideas, and the overall message you want to convey.
But maybe even more important than helping us develop excellent presentations is the fact that consistent deep work improves our cognitive capabilities and ability to concentrate for extended periods of time on a daily basis. And there’s likely not a person walking among us that couldn’t benefit from improved focus and critical thinking skills. So, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this post and start getting down to deep work.
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