The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration.
Busyness as 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 back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
This theory tells us that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicated significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work. If you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Such concentration hijacks your attention, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.
This danger is especially pronounced in knowledge work, which due to its dependence of ubiquitous connectivity generates a devastatingly appealing buffet of distraction, which if given enough attention leaches meaning and importance from the world constructed by your mind. When you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right. A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.
“I’ll choose my targets with care… then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”
Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies revel that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flowing activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
Any pursuit – be in physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.
Within the overall structure of a project there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship… One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, while our craftsmanship will still be honored.
You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.
A similar potential for craftsmanship can be found in most skilled jobs in the information economy. Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is your craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.