Are You Wading in the Shallows?

Sorting all your tasks into the categories of Urgent, Urgent and Important, Important etc. can be maddening, time consuming and open to interpretation. Reportedly, this approach is helpful to many who can make many clear distinctions between tasks and act accordingly. But for most of my creatives and inventives, the two bucket approach (deep and shallow) is working better.  According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, we can sort our tasks into 2 fairly distinct categories. Deep tasks are those with high-payoff work requiring sustained concentration. Shallow work tasks are the low priority busy work tasks that make us look, but not feel, productive.

When I meet with clients who are short on tangible productivity, we’ll study their to-do lists from the previous week and find that about 80% of what was accomplished was shallow work and 20% was deep work (Pareto lives on!). The idea is to turn that around to 80% deep and 20% shallow. As an entrepreneur, what tasks will yield the most payoff, toward your goal? Those are the deep tasks (researching, planning an important presentation, accounting work etc) that require the most concentration and least distraction. These tasks completed will get you closer to your goal. Shallow work is necessary work, but it is easier, more enjoyable and less important to the bottom line. Because of our weakness with concentration and focus we tend to spend more time in the shallows.

In subsequent blogs I will share my solutions to the concentration and focus problems that keeps us wading in the shallows. But for now, clearly identify your deep and shallow tasks and see where you’ve been spending your time. Next, schedule your days around a core of deep work, with the shallow activities batched into smaller bursts when your energy dips or as a reward for getting the deep work done. If you’re short on time (no kidding!), I highly recommend reading the summary and analysis on Deep Work, for a more “in-depth” understanding.

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