Two perspectives that underpin my current view on knowledge work:
- The executive powers of the brain seem to be, or work as if, they are in limited supply and thus one has to be economical about how you spend it.
- Realizing that knowledge and the mind is always already situated and embodied, meaning that our tools, habits, and physical environment are literally part of our minds.
- We can use this to our advantage! Spending limited energy on changing yourself is, I believe, not how you get the most bang for the buck. Rather, whenever possible, change the environment to make it much easier, default even, to generate your desired patterns of behavior.
From a more practical point of view, I like the idea of "deep work" presented by Cal Newport at his blog.
"Knowledge workers dedicate too much time to shallow work — tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on). This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy (there’s something oddly compelling in responding to a question; even if the topic is unimportant).
But this type of work is ultimately empty. We cannot find real satisfaction in efforts that are easily replicatable, nor can we expect such efforts to be the foundation of a remarkable career.
With this in mind, I argue that we need to spend more time engaged in deep work — cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.
Deep work, if made the centerpiece of your knowledge work schedule, generates three key benefits:
Continuous improvement of the value of your work output.
An increase in the total quantity of valuable output you produce.
Deeper satisfaction (aka., “passion”) for your work."
When others come to us for help or we're given work from somewhere, it is unlikely to be deep work. "busywork" that is more concrete will easily take over your schedule if you let it. And you may have to take care of that, but it won't bring you even one step closer to actually making progress on your thesis. When we sit down to do deep work, we can't know that we will in fact get the desired results during that session. But we do know that if we never make the time, we're guaranteed not to make progress. Here I also like the concept of "manager time" and "maker time".
In preparation for the meeting, please consider 2 things: 1) what it was that made you sign up, 2) what you consider to be the most difficult thing about your work.
Decision: we'll aim for bi-weekly meetings on Thursdays, either at lunch or after work. The first theme will be on Decision fatigue and Gisela will select some readings.