If somebody asked me what I dislike most about myself, I’d have the answer ready at the tip of my tongue. My inability to concentrate, I’d say, fuelled by my addiction to my phone. Countless therapists have tried to help me with this over the years (“make a routine”, “take breaks”, “try the pomodoro technique” etc. etc. – they might as well have been shouting into the void), to no avail. I continue to struggle with a short attention span, and find myself craving distraction in the form of Friends clips on YouTube or food reels on Instagram (sigh).
One day, I think to myself, I’m going to master the skill of getting into a flow state whenever I want, like I used to be able to as a kid writing pages and pages of a “novel” in single afternoons, or memorising entire textbooks before midterm exams. Now in my late twenties, this seems like a distant dream, an unreachable goal that I might keep striving for but never touch. Ours is a world where distraction is a commodity, to be bought and sold and profited off of, at the expense of our creativity, our concentration and our ability to just be.
In this age of commodified distraction, Cal Newport’s formulation of ‘deep work’ unsurprisingly received a lot of attention – both within discussions on work culture and other aspects of life in general. Newport, in his 2016 bestseller, writes “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.” How do you go into this flow state that allows you to work deeply? Newport has four broad rules in place:
1. Working deeply: By training yourself to be focused at all times, and making a routing that lets you go out of focus for short periods of time (usually we tend to do the opposite), we can do deep work. Newport advocates bouts of productivity, where you don’t turn to anything else, followed by free reign to spend your time however you want. This is an alternative to the way in which a lot of us work, constantly switching between meaningful tasks and distractions (I’ve looked at my phone five times between the time I started writing this and now, pray for me).
2. Leaning into boredom: Newport says we should spend a certain amount of time doing nothing, just being with ourselves. This has become harder than it ever was. Whenever we don’t have anything to do, we’re scrolling or texting. I can’t remember the last time I let my mind just be, allowed it space to exist by itself without stimulating it in some way. To activate the flow state, boredom is an essential precedent, according to Newport.
3. Exit Social Media: This one is pretty simple, but its also the most difficult one, in my honest opinion. As someone who’s been active on social media for more than 10 years at this point (all those intense formative teenage years included), quitting social media would be like chopping off a limb. At the same time, I know that this is an almost full proof way of reclaiming my brain. Newport argues that by quitting social media, we automatically remove a huge energy drainer from our daily lives. He’s right, but aaaaa.
4. Cut the crap: OK, maybe he didn’t put it like this, but I am. Newport advocates for a rational use of one’s time and concentration. In order to achieve this goal, we need to cut down on unnecessary emails, calls, meetings and so on. By trimming the fat, we can conserve our energy levels, go deep into what needs our attention and get it done. This almost sounds obvious, but you’ll be surprised at how difficult its implementation might be.
Now that I’ve given you the rundown on Deep Work, let’s come to Bee. Bee, like any other company, wants greats results. As someone who works at Bee, I’ve found that Bee creates an environment and sustains a format where deep work is possible, thus yielding those better results. How does Bee do it?
Asynchronous communication: This resonates with what Newport says filtering out unnecessary meetings and messages in order to allow workers to do what they’ve been hired to do – work. At Bee, there’s no one forcing you to turn up to meetings that could have been emails (or in our case, Basecamp pings), or breathing down your neck while you’re trying to finish a task. Everyone gets to concentrate in their own space in their own time and use Basecamp to let relevant colleagues know what they’re up to and if they need help.
No use of social media: A depressing number of organisations I know use Whatsapp as an official channel for communication with and between employees. This is obviously a recipe for disaster – all your friends are on Whatsapp, and your Whatsapp is on your phone, which has all the other apps. I mean, come on! What do you think is going to happen? At Bee, we strictly use Basecamp to communicate – it streamlines exchanges and keeps it clean.
Flexibility: Bee is all about flexibility- be it in terms of working hours, or allocation of tasks, or the allocation of holidays. Flexibility gives workers the option to concentrate for long hours, and also to lean into boredom, as Newport suggests. By empowering us to work the way we want to, Bee makes it easier to go into a deep work state, thereby maintaining the good results it seeks.
As I continue to work at Bee, I hope to master the deep work state bit by bit. I know there’s a long way to go (my phone just made a pop sound! Wonder who it is), but with Bee on my side, I’ll bee there one day.
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