Striving for deep work when the situation demands shallow work

I worry a lot about deep work (giving sustained attention to hard things that create value). As a professor, deep work is required to produce new results. Therefore, the more I do, the better.

I often envy the schedules of professional writers — like Woody AllenNeal Stephenson, or Stephen King — who can wake-up, work deeply until they reach their cognitive limit, then rest and recharge until the next day.

The simplicity of this rhythm is satisfying. I could never emulate it, however, because, like most knowledge workers, I’m also saddled with quite a bit of  shallow work (task-oriented efforts that do not create much new value). You’d be surprised, for example, how much time you spend after you write an academic paper, formatting it properly for publication (a scene they seemed to skip in A Beautiful Mind).

5 thoughts on “Striving for deep work when the situation demands shallow work

  1. Not to mention the shallowness that comes from having to work too fast, whether to meet deadlines, or just because of the ambient pressure to publish a lot, quickly.

    Baptiste Coulmont recently published an article he’d spent five years working on, and wrote about how much he liked being able to do “slow science”. Since he had no funding, he was under no pressure to produce anything, and could take a long as he needed, not only to do the research, but also to gain the new theoretical knowledge and methodological skills he needed in order to do something different from the research he had done previously:

    How often does that happen?

  2. how does one go about doing that??? in some hypothetical future when i have a more regular income stream (or perhaps just when my postdoc starts in jan) it’s going to be very tempting to do precisely that.

  3. very rarely – i feel i’ve now mostly emptied my head of all the instrumental crap i internalised in the first couple of years of my phd but i *still* rush writing and it really bothers me.

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