Early this year I read Deep Work and decided to leave Facebook. Much has happened during this year on the subject of focus, which I would like to share with you.

I had myself enough of Facebook when I read Deep Work, but this book brought light to some ideas I had and introduced some new ones. Since then, I have been learning to:

  1. Measure the cons too
  2. Knowing myself better
  3. Doing nothing

Measure the cons too

More and more often, people don’t take cons in consideration. We tend to take the pros as enough to say yes to whatever it is. For example, since Facebook helps you stay connected with some friends or family, you don’t take into consideration the fact that it also brings a lot of distraction into your life, which stops you from achieving your goals or to simply having control over yourself.

This goes further than just in matters of distraction. For instance, if a service is free and facilitates some activity otherwise painful to you, do you consider what happens to your personal data?

When accepting something into your life, consider the bad bits too and measure them wisely.

Knowing yourself

This is a particularly interesting one. Understanding how the brain works helps me identifying the triggers and the reasons to seek shallowness when I want to engage in deepness.

How many times have you set yourself to study for an exam or to learn a new programming language and ended up scrolling through Facebook, reading the news, having fun on 9gag and watching videos on youtube? Our brain is lazy, and when you require it to focus on a single task with all its resources, it will try to sneak away from deepness and engage shallowness instead. In such a state, your brain feels at peace, away from all that demand you hoped from it.

The problem is that allowing yourself to fall into that trap every time means that you and your brain are deprived of mental discipline and mental exercise. And not being able to focus and to engage in substantial mental exercise keeps you not just out of shape, but also further away from it.

Knowing yourself is therefore fundamental as it will help you identify the escapes you build for yourself and allows you to ensure that you will not get off track.

A great trick is to learn what genuinely moves you and leads you to stay focused, instead of solely learning to say no to distractions.

Doing nothing

Saying that one is better off living a deep life rather than a shallow life may sound like you must always be reading fine literature, listening to classical music and having philosophical conversations. I don’t think that is the case that is being made.

The greatest problem I see nowadays is that we are always connected to the shallow world. We are always getting bombed with notifications, always being pushed away from solitude and thoughtfulness. We have no time to do simply nothing. Waiting for an elevator to come becomes an open door to check all these sources of distraction once more. We are no longer free. We no longer can just look at the world around us when we have to wait for the bus. There is no time for contemplation or self-examination.

We live in this crazy rush of getting all the latest updates on all things that don’t matter.

Just like in any other addiction, as you get out of it you see it more clearly. And I now see how shallowly most people live, and how harmful it is to their lives and long-term happiness.

I am still learning to do this, though. Starting by reading the news in the morning, for example, helps me waking up but it also fills my head with loads of information I don’t need and that will make me less available to engage in more important and demanding activities later in the day.

Trading for the best

As I said, I started the year by dropping Facebook.

When I left Facebook, my family back in Portugal got a bit worried about how that would harden the distance. Truth is that cutting the ways of shallow communication, turned out to lead us to more meaningful and joyful video calls, which has brought us closer together.

But I didn’t stop there. Facebook was just the beginning. I have recently deleted my Twitter account too. Although it was never a source of distraction for me, the mere fact that I get nothing of value from it and instead get a lot of shallow content to spend my mental availability with was enough to drop it.

I have also unsubscribed to a lot of mailing lists that provided close to no value to me, and I also deleted the email app on my phone. This was quite important as I was seriously addicted to checking my email. Now, to read my email I need to get my hands on my laptop, which sort of creates a contained environment to where, when, and how I access such information.

I also dropped LinkedIn. I was not sure if that was a good idea, and I’m not saying that I am totally sure it is, but here were my motives: Linkedin is just a vanity fair. You show off hundreds of skills and make the effort to look good. But the worse really is that is as shallow as Facebook, filled with articles and posts of low value and filled with recruiters that don’t know what a Software Developer actually does. I am not to judge anyone for being fine with this, but I am not. The turning point to me was when I joined Channable. LinkedIn turned out to be completely useless in my search and enrolment on my dream job. StackOverflow Jobs, my blog, and email turned out to be sufficient.

The only benefit of keeping it was to keep building a network for the future, while there were a lot of cons from keeping it. I don’t know about you but getting an average of 4 job offers a week builds up to be a factor of distraction, as it plants in you the wonder and curiosity about those potential jobs, next to the time spent replying to those emails. One last factor against it is that on LinkedIn you are most likely to be valued for things that the market wants, which are probably not what you most deeply want for your career. For instance, the people of LinkedIn want me to have stuff like React, Angular 2 and yet another js framework on my skills, not Monads, STM, WARP, etc. Sure, one needs a job to survive, and you are probably better off being pragmatic than romantic, but being in such a circle is setting yourself to forget what really matters.

With all the time, energy and mental fitness that I have been saving, a lot has changed in the way:

  1. I am reading more, and being able to read for longer periods.
  2. I listen to more and more interesting music
  3. I have been doing more sports than the last 5 years together: Football on Saturday mornings, I joined a hockey team, I go for runs every now and then, etc.
  4. I enjoy working in my house, improving stuff, doing the dishes, etc.
  5. I started a 9h a week Dutch course (including 2h of homework)
  6. I am less anxious and needy for approval
  7. I have made more friends than I did in the last few years
  8. I have more meaningful conversations and time with my friends
  9. I have left my comfort zone and dived into a challenging new job
  10. I have been living my marriage in a deeper and even more joyful way

Almost after a year of this new approach to daily life, I can’t but invite you to do the same.

I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.
Winifred Gallagher