Many of us react to the buzzes and beeps that come from our phones with the urgency of a parent responding to a baby’s cry. We know this probably isn’t the healthiest nor the sanest response to a vibrating hunk of a metal, so we tell ourselves we should be less distracted. We shouldn’t be so gripped by social media or the churn of work email.
But Cal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, says we’re downplaying the problems created by constant interruption.
"We treat it, I think, in this more general sense of, ‘eh, I probably should be less distracted.’ But I think it’s more urgent than people realize," he says.
By letting email and other messages guide our workday, Cal says we’re weakening our ability to do the most challenging kinds of work—what he calls "deep work." Deep work requires sustained attention, whether the task is writing marketing copy or solving a tricky engineering problem.
We’re also denying ourselves the satisfaction that often comes from committing our full attention to a task. Replying to a string of emails rarely arouses this same feeling.
This week on Hidden Brain, we look at how to cultivate deep attention and what we gain when we immerse ourselves in meaningful work.
The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Thomas Lu, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Laura Kwerel. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.