A sure way to significantly increase your odds of success

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee

Do you feel that life is getting by too fast? Whether fast or not, do you feel that you are constantly jumping from one priority item to another at work or business and in life? Most of us feel like our time is on high demand by attention grabbing, competing items day in and day out. In addition to feeling frantic and fatigued, this also does not allow to build strength in any one area (or two). Our knowledge and understanding remain superficial and there is no real growth happening. Even in cases of real growth, it is probably happening at a slow or perhaps, very slow pace.

Internet and subsequent technological advancements have done unbelievable amount of good for us… unthinkable even but they have also made a few things worse. Most pernicious impact is probably felt in feeling constantly distracted. Most of us are distracted all the time — resulting in no real anchor materially and psychologically.

Deep expertise and sharp talent have become rare and therein lies a great upside. Those who are able to build depth have a clear advantage over others in making consolidated progress on their goals. Look around and you will not see many who value depth but you can also see that people whom you admire, they most likely have areas of strong expertise and they most likely work on keeping those depth-areas, relevant and practically impactful. These exceptions prove the premise that depth could be one’s ticket to success.

A lot has been written on deliberate practice and deep work. A couple of books I read on this (a while back) are “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. On the face of it “deep work” and “deliberate practice” may seem different and technically they are different too but the big benefits accrue only when both are done together and hence I do not much distinguish them.

You may read these two books (or any of the other books on this matter) to get comprehensive understanding of the notion of depth but I will put up points (that I have internalized and been a great benefactor of) here with a hope to nudge you towards acquiring depth in your areas of interest and relevance:

  • Deep work refers to submersing oneself on a piece of work (studying for an exam, writing code, solving an issue at work, personal financial planning, playing a musical instrument, learning a sport etc) for an extending period of time (60–90 minutes to four hours at a time)
  • Deliberate practice refers to practicing at the edge of one’s current capability for extended period of time. Design of the practice should not just incorporate practice at the edge but should also allow for quick and sharp feedback so that learning and action go hand in hand
  • I believe deep work and deliberate practice exploit the power of compounding:
  1. By operating at the edge of one’s performance, deliberate practice improves on one’s performance
  2. Deep work allows for iterations of growth — number of iterations being the real lever of compounding
  3. You build a layer of expertise/knowledge then operate on its edge thereby upgrading the layer of expertise and then operate on its edge thereby upgrading it again and cycles through these iterations
  • In contrast, in shallow work, one operates through the same layer of expertise resulting in no or minimal growth
  • By indulging in deep, deliberate practice, one tends to develop “muscle memory” of expertise (“Muscle memory” here is a metaphor). I think of this as expertise grooves where appropriate thinking processes get hard-coded into grooves — so with the right input, water naturally flows through the grove without meandering and getting wasted. Even physiologically, it works somewhat like this — myelin (white matter) forms around connections of the nerves that get formed when you learn something new — reinforcing the synaptic neural connections
  • Deep work is cognitively high demanding and hence deep, deliberate efforts should be buffered by generous periods of rest
  • Deliberate practice allows you to learn hard things
  • The world values “rare”, “unique” and “valuable” work — this is possible only by deep work
  • No one can escape “shallow” work items — do not react to these as and when they hit you, instead batch such work items and cycle through such batch at fixed time(s) in the day — as much as possible
  • All time in the day is not equal — you may be your creative best in the morning hours or evening hours — use these hours for deep work and relegate shallow work batch to non-vital hours (afternoon?)
  • Remember, we all have limited reserve of will power in a day — use it wisely
  • Ruthlessly discriminate between urgent and important items, between short term and long term items and accordingly allocate your will power and vital hours
  • In addition to allocating hours, create environment that promotes deep work:
  1. Physical environment — where you have some privacy and there are not too many in-your-face distractions
  2. Psychological environment — compartmentalize other aspects of your life when you are doing deep work — far easier said than done
  3. Technological environment — keep phones away or in silent mode etc
  • Beware of attention engineering by social media platforms
  • Don’t be in a hurry — practice sufficiently slowly. Nothing worthwhile can be built in haste — it takes about full nine months for a well formed human baby to emerge

“what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore — plays in defining the quality of our life.” — Cal Newport

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