Deep Vs Shallow Work – A Commentary

23 December 2015

Ferdaus
There are two types of work in today’s typical job — deep and shallow work.

Deep work is the type where you need to dive in really deep to get the work done to a point where you are happy with it. It takes time, thought, inspiration, motivation and passion. On rare occasions, it may result from a burst of genius in a short period of time, but more often — you need to spend enough time on what you are doing, with the right conditions.

Examples:

  • designing an app’s workflow with your team
  • writing a novel, chapter by chapter
  • illustrating or painting for a piece of art or graphic design

Shallow work on the other hand, is the type where you just need to get it done. It may take a long time (e.g. doing a pile of neglected receipts to claim at the end of the month) but typically, it’s made up of short durations. You would want to group these tasks together and just do a nice dopamine releasing checklist to get them done, one by one.

Examples:

  • answering your morning emails
  • following up with people to move things along in a project
  • mundane, brain dead errands and tasks like formatting documents and sending them out

These thoughts came about while I was reading this interesting article from 99U. The author was talking about the ‘lazy paradox’ — basically when someone may pass off as being lazy, because he won’t want to attend meetings, answer calls, lead projects etc, but given enough time, he creates something that truly matters. Something that changes the course of the company, or even the human race.

And this came about because he gains time from avoiding the shallow, but necessary, work that comes with bigger responsibilities, and channeling their time, creativity, drive and passion to thinking about an interesting concept and making something out of it.

Process Flows and UX Work Require Some Really Dedicated Time.

Process Flows and UX Work Require Some Really Dedicated Time.

The Deep and Shallow Balance

I think there needs to be a balance between the two. Total absolution in absolving oneself of the mostly mundane tasks of shallow work may not necessarily result in one creating a piece of work that changes the world. Usually, those who fool themselves into thinking that they can, are the ones who waste long periods of their lives going into ‘sabbaticals’ with the premise of creating the next big thing.

It is the more boring and routine tasks that keep us craving for creativity and passion in our lives.

Think about it, if you have been spending the first 3 hours of your day just organising your work — with things like meetings, calls, liaising with vendors and team mates, finishing up that weekly report your boss wants — you’ve got the next 4 to 5 hours to do some real work. You take a breather, freshen up, sit down, block out all distractions, and really get cranking at the work that you’re required to produce. I’m pretty sure that sense of accomplishment will come upon finishing that work. Plus, you’ll be really proud of it coz you’ve dedicated enough time for it.

In the above scenario, you have actually split your work day into two. First part to do shallow work, and the second part to do some deep work.

Interruptions

Having little to no interruptions is key in getting actual deep work done. It’s just the nature of things. Deep work requires you to spend time. Day dream, wonder, ponder, surf, intentionally leave the problem only to come back with a fresh pair of eyes, sketch, prototype… These things take time. But the results can be worth it.

Of course, if you’re managed by someone who don’t understand this concept, then be prepared to be interrupted throughout the day, and forget about creating quality work that require focus and time. Or at the very least, send him or her this article!

In conclusion, don’t leave out shallow work totally. They may give you meaning and purpose to drive your deep work, allowing you to create immensely wonderful things.

 

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