Deep Work

Hi RIP readers,

I realized I’ve not said much on one of the main aspects of the FIRE recipe so far: earning.

From a pure numerical point of view, Financial Independence can be reduced to three things: earn more, spend less and invest wisely.

I don’t think you see me as a role model for “spend less“.

That hurts me a lot. Even though I’ve always been living way below my means, always saving a ridiculous percentage of my income and never falling to lifestyle inflation, spending 4-6k CHF per month is not what you would probably call a frugal family.

I have my curated list of excuses though.

Excuses like “I have a wife”, “I have a daughter”, “I live in Switzerland”, “I don’t own a car”, “I live in a 50 square meters apartment without elevator, washing machine and dishwasher”, “Holy sheet did you see how much I’m earning?? Can I pliiiz spend some money without feeling guilty?”

Anyway, I dared writing some articles about frugality in the past. What I didn’t write anything about is how to earn more.

[Well, except a whole series on my personal education and work history, which documents my career trajectory and the choices I made along the way that led me from a poor neighborhood of Rome to a multiple 6 figures salary in Swiss Silicon Valley]

I wrote about self improvement instead.

I do consider self improvement fundamentals like creativity, a lifelong learning attitude and a growth mindset the best tools you have to increase your chances of earning more.

I love self improvement so much that I plan to devote a good chunk of my after-FI life to self improvement of some kind. If you ask me today why I want to become FI I’d reply: “to be able to study, read, learn, improve myself and give myself to others for the rest of my life with no money constraints“, a self improvement heaven!

[I know, I know… the term self improvement has faded out from the “list of what’s cool”, but I still like it. If you prefer inspiration, lifestyle design or whatever else please install a browser extension and substitute the word, I won’t mind 🙂 ]

I think soft skills are what are going to matter most in the future – they already matter more than technical skills in many careers. In this post I’m going to talk about the fusion of soft and technical skills in the RIP way: a review of an amazing book I didn’t read yet. And some actions I’ve taken about it.

Yeah, the post title… you got it! You sooo smart!!

The book I’m talking about is Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Who is Cal Newport?

I always do some research in advance before jumping and binge on someone’s blog or books. Remember: time is your scarcest resource!

Cal Newport is a five-years-younger-than-me associate (tenured) computer science professor at Georgetown University with a passion for speculations about the future, self improvement and efficiency/productivity.

Wow, Cal, we’re made of the same stuff! Nice to (virtually) meet you!

Cal has a Wikipedia page, which is always cool. I don’t have one. Or… do I?

Cal has a website and an associated blog overflowing of amazing content. It’s of course in my feed reader, I don’t miss a post from his blog.

Cal has written several books about how to build a great career. Cal is now working on two books that are “Deep Work’s logical next ones” according to his thoughts evolution, i.e. one on Digital Minimalism and one on Attention Economy. More info here. I can’t wait to buy them and feel frustrated by not having time to read them!

How did I discover Cal?

Well, references to his books circulated so many times among people I follow. I heard about So Good They Can’t Ignore You (a praise of mastery instead of “follow your passion”) so many times that it’s actually very high on my “read next” list.

In one of my recent down-the-rabbit-hole YouTube deep dive I ended up watching Cal’s amazing TEDx Talk about quitting social media.

I strongly recommend you go watch the TED talk before moving on.

Ok, let’s move on 🙂

Side (but related) story: my No Facebook Week experiment:

Quitting social media is a temptation I’ve had since a couple of years ago. When one keeps doing something while experimenting strategies to stop doing it, it means something is wrong.

I spend too much time on Facebook. It used to consume fragmented time during the day (while I’m on the elevator, on the bus, while waiting in a line for food, while walking etc), it’s now fragmenting my time during the day.

That makes for a nice quote!

Facebook. It used to consume fragmented time during the day, it’s now fragmenting my time during the day.

– Mr RIP

I waste time scrolling my news feed, which is becoming an echo chamber plus ads.

I unfollowed most of my “friends” whose values don’t fit my open view of the universe. I unfollowed those who share fake news, those who openly support racist and populist political parties, religious fundamentalists (including nazi-vegan), ethic monsters and frivolous beings. I get caught up in argues and fights with minor friends and I usually end up unfollowing and unfriending them.

All of the above reinforces my filter bubble and makes me question the actual value of the tool.

I do find benefits though. I don’t want to suddenly cut bridges with the outside world. Cal himself proposed an alternative solution to downscale social media usage from compulsive to controlled.

Here’s a list of features I like and would like to keep:

  • Being in touch with friends I don’t live close by. But I can call or text them. I can even send funny cat videos to them without a Facebook account!
  • Being exposed to interesting resources shared by my cleaver friends. But I already follow more than 100 feeds like blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts…
  • Share my thoughts with a wider audience. But why? By the way, did I notice I have a blog for that?
  • Keeping up with the news. Like there are no other ways to do that…
  • Promoting my 2 Pages. That’s actually hard to replace.

I think we can agree there’s a problem here. I’m questioning the supposed benefits. I’m clearly suffering from advanced FOMO and fake dopamine addiction.

Without digging deeper in the philosophical and psychological aspects of my addiction, I started questioning my behavior in 2017, after having read this perfect article by Nat Eliason on the destructive switch from search to social.

Around the same time this TED Talk by Tristan Harris, a former Google designer, came out telling us how consumers attention is 21st century most precious currency.

Later, after the recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, Nat Eliason doubled down with an article about why you should delete facebook.

Then 2 weeks ago I watched Cal’s TED talk and decided to give it a try.

If you’re not paying for a product, you’re the product.

So I didn’t log into my personal Facebook account for a week. From Sunday May 13th to Sunday May 20th 2018. I logged a coupe of time into my blogger Facebook account during the week just to check FIWE updates. I used Facebook Messenger a couple of times too. I don’t consider Messenger to be as evil as its bigger brother. It’s just an instant messaging app and some of my friends use it to communicate with me.

What are the result of this experiment?

  • Got flooded by engagement notifications. First thing I noticed was that Facebook tried hard to keep me engaged. “Did you know XZY posted a new status update?”, “RIP, you have 2 friends requests and 53 notifications waiting for you”. After 3 days it went very far: it tried to leverage on my guilt: “RIP, your SISTER is waiting for you to approve her post on your timeline…”. Holy shit, what a bad person I am! Anyway, as scary as it may sound, I realized I’ve not been detached from Facebook for longer than 2 days since… since forever
  • I didn’t feel like I was missing out anything. I didn’t even miss the most important fact of the week! FOMO is evil, FOMO is wrong! Yanny is even wronger!!
  • I enjoyed not fighting for low level shitty Italian political issues, even though I feel the urge to fight with my classical sarcasm against the fact that we’re going to be governed by the most ridiculous people in history of Homo Sapiens. Yes, more ridiculous than Trump and Berlusconi.
  • I used Whatsapp more to connect with people. What? Whatsapp is owned by Facebook? Ouch…

What are the conclusion of my No Facebook Week experiment?

It’s been an amazing and relaxing week, where I had time to focus on productivity, spending quality time with family and reading. A lot.

And I’ve got some books to read: I spent 150 EUR on amazon this month – but I still don’t own Deep Work. Amazon, I’m coming back soon!

RIP, it seems the experiment was successful, so you’re going to delete your Facebook account?

Weeeell, I don’t know… I still have some business to do. I manage 2 pages: my theater group page and my blog page. But since I restarted using it I got caught in bad behavior like useless political fights and wasting times on the “news” feed.

I need to find my balance, need to switch from compulsive to controlled use.

RIP, why did you tell us about your NFW experiment? How is this related to the subject of deep work?

You didn’t watch Cal’s TED Talk, did you? 🙂

Of course it’s related!

Quoting Cal Newport:

in a competitive 21st century economy, what the market values is the ability to produce things that are rare and valuable. What the market dismisses are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value. The market is going to reward the deep, concentrated work required to build real skills and to apply those skills to produce things that are rare and that are valuable

credit: monkeyuser.com

What are the obstructions to deep and concentrate work?

Interruptions. Both active and passive.

Passive: emails, instant messaging, phone calls, people physically disturbing you.

Active: your brain. You wasting time on social media, surfing the web, focusing on small tasks and avoiding putting the effort to go deep. In few words: your procrastination attitude.

You can find a funny way to put these things together in a WaitButWhy post named how to beat procrastination, which is part of his procrastination series that ended up in one of the most spectacular TED Talks of all time.

Anyway, the points are:

  • We gave up our attention capital, our time, our scarcest resource for free as a means of exchange to use free products. This is having devastating effects on my generation (gen X) and even more devastating effects on following generations. Teenagers today can’t concentrate. They don’t know what it means.
  • We need to be active in the process of reclaiming our time and attention. Internet companies are not with us on this, they’re against us. Our attention is the product they sell to advertisers.
  • Silence is no more a value. It’s socially acceptable to listen high volume music on your phone, without earplugs, on the bus. Society adapted to this status of continuous distractions and it’s rare to find space and time to focus.
  • Boredom – not the negative feeling of not having anything fulfilling to do with your life, but the ability to spend some time not having anything to do and letting your mind wander and be creative – is no more a value. Have you tried to spend 5 minutes on the toilet without your smartphone?

Holy sheet, RIP, is everything lost?

I don’t think so.

At least not for my generation and the following one, the millennials. We still remember the time when we had no continuous distractions sucking our time capital away. We can still recall and reproduce that environment because we have memories about it.

I don’t have a recipe for gen Z kids or for my daughter (is she gen Z? I have no idea) since they have no memory of a time without mobile games and other ubiquitous attention killers.

Anyway, it’s not only a matter of active distractions. As I said, the environment and today’s workplaces are built to favor high levels of interactions. Open spaces, coworkers camaraderie, abuse of IMs and emails and so on. Being interrupted by continuous passive distractions is the norm today.

My goal is to work on both sides of the equation:

  • On the active side: limiting my bad habit of wasting time on social media and mobile games
  • On the passive side: teaching people around me how to behave with help me achieving my full potential.

For the latter, I’ve put up my personal Deep Work manifesto: enjoy!

Feel free to print the doc and hang it out somewhere on your desk or on a close wall. Get a magnet or some item to indicate in which zone you are right now, how people should behave and what they should expect from you.

I’m instructing Mrs RIP, but she’s already complained “whaat? I can’t make noises – like calling my half deaf mother and put the call on speakers – not even at your level 0??? Are you crazy??“. It will be tough, but we’ll get there 🙂

Anyway, my manifest/rulebook works as follows: I can be in one of the 4 levels of “disturbability” (is that a word?).

Level 0 means I’m not doing anything that requires attention. I’m fully available. You can disturb me.

Level 1 means I’m focusing on a curiosity oriented task that has a clear time horizon. I’d like to not be disturbed by sync communication, but async is ok (you can send me a message, I’ll read it later).

Level 2 means I’m creating and I’m charging “the flow bar“. If I can keep focus for more or less an hour I may reach “the flow“, that is level 3. Everytime you interrupt me I restart the timer. I mute notifications and close any other tab on my browser. I make it clear I don’t want to be interrupted by going physically away or putting my headphones on.

Level 3 means I’m in creative heaven and I’ve lost track of time. I’m immersed in my activity and that’s how I create something that is valuable for modern economy. Sometimes writing blog posts makes me reach this level. Also acting in theater, coding for a passionate project (usually not at work), hiking alone for a full day in nature, doing endurance training (swimming at least 1.5km or running half marathon). I’ll skip lunch and dinner, I’ll skip meetings, I don’t care!

Now, I know I may not be able to implement my manifesto today.

I still work in a normal company. I have colleagues who need me, meetings I need to attend, rules I need to follow. I don’t have power to impose my own rules.

But my manifesto is perfect for a after-FIRE life! (yes, with children too)

I visualize myself working very deeply on my own projects once I quit Corporate America. I would like to build the right space for stimulating Deep Work: a dedicated room of the house or, better, a separated space like an Hobbyraum (common in Switzerland), a coworking office, a barn or a writing hut!

Anyway, it’s not enough to set time and space to go deep. You also need some structure to take advantage of your deep work time.

Recently, I got in love with Ryan Holiday. The author of several books about stoicism and marketing. Thru Ryan I decided to explore Cal’s work. Thanks to Ryan’s blog and books (4 of which I own) I have more tools to make better use of quality Deep Work time.

Ryan is a ten-years-younger-than-me (holy sheet how old I am!) acclaimed writer, thinker and speaker. He achieved his highly skilled level at a very young age thanks to extreme dedication, hard work, highly skilled mentors (Robert Greene – Mastery, The 48 laws of Power) and a method for reading and collecting wisdom pieces.

I strongly suggest you to go and digest his online resources (thoughtcatalog.com, ryanholiday.net, dailystoic.com).

Thanks to Ryan I’m learning how to read more, how to read effectively, how to become a better writer and – most important of all – how to structure knowledge and wisdom I’m exposed to in reading books and other resources.

I used to collect quotes on a Google Doc and digital clipped articles on Google Drive. Plus I store bookmarks in an advanced folder structure on my browser, backed up on the cloud. But all these digital tools are not very effective. They don’t help me internalize and remember what I read. Ryan advocates for physical handwriting. A skill I’ve progressively lost and I’m willing to re-learn.

What Ryan suggests and uses is a commonplace book. Not a new thing. He didn’t invent it. He implemented his commonplace book using ruled notecards. If you’re interested, I recommend you read more about his process in his notecards system article. Again, nothing original or new. He got the idea from Robert Greene, his mentor.

I love it. I started my own Notecard System! I’m experimenting with colors, sizes (a mix of A6 and A7), absolute addressing for cross references (a variation of the amazing Luhmann’s Zettelkasten)

I’m building the basement of my after-FI creative life, and I’m actually going to live it for a couple of months during my summer paternity leave.

I plan to be taking my paid paternity leave at Hooli from early July to mid September 2018. We’re probably going to enjoy a couple of weeks in Côte D’Azur (South region of France) in mid July, but then we’re going to stay in Switzerland for a month and half, an amazing staycation where I had green light from Mrs RIP to explore my after-FIRE life: working on my creativity and curiosity in a dedicated area between 8am and 4pm and then spending high quality time with the family in hopefully gorgeous summer weather. I can’t tell you how bad I can’t wait for it to happen! It will be a real taste of FI life!

I plan to finish my Life Plan analysis, working more on my blog and on my self development. Writing a lot of lists, journaling, reading more and probably doing more physical activities. Maybe a hike travel in September? Who knows!

Anyway, to summarize: don’t stay shallow, go deep. Future of work is portfolio career. The quality of your career will depend on the quality of your output. To produce high quality output you need deep work.

Hey RIP, you said this post was about “how to earn more money” but I don’t see any “500 ways to make 500$ more” here…

Well, the internet is full of articles about quick recipes to make money or how to rock at coding interviews and other similar bullshits.

I like to focus on systems instead of goals, as Scott Adams said in his book. And it’s a system I’m talking about here.

I like to focus on fundamentals instead of methods, as Jacob said on his blog.

Start early and think long term!

So RIP, you wrote about a book you didn’t read. Don’t you feel silly?

Wait wait wait I’ve at least watched a couple of animated book review 🙂

So, stop wasting time on the internet and go focusing yourself!

6 comments

  1. Good read Mr RIP. But instructing Mrs RIP (and perhaps also babyRIP) to be silent while you are “in the zone” is a bit harsh and unrealistic. hehehe. You might need a bigger place so you can hide in your “cave” when you need to do your deep work. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the share. I’ve read Deep Work a few years ago: Completely agree on the importance of uninterrupted concentration to read, learn and improve oneself.
    However, with a newborn, everything changes so drastically – and Deep Work will probably be the most challenging goal to achieve and perhaps the last thing on your mind!

    My two-cent: Spot your baby’s sleeping patterns and use the (rare) spare time wisely. And if you can, help from grandparents can be a godsend. Good luck!

    1. It’s going to be a disaster if one plans to grow their “deep work muscle” (Cal says it’s a skill: it can be learned and must be trained) staying at home with a demanding family 🙂
      My plan is to find a coworking space I can go to deep work. It’s actually less expensive than renting a flat with an extra room and let you focus on uninterrupted cognitive demanding work.

  3. Really insightfull blog post, I have the book Deep Work on my Ebook but still have to read it. Currently I‘m reading Your Money Your Life.

    I still remember the times when i had no smartphone or mobile phone. But I always had atleast a Gameboy with Pokémon and Mario 🙂

    Enjoy your paternity leave and get well rested, this one Month of testing FIRE will probably get you a lot of insight, about how you‘ll plan your short-, mid- and longterm future.

    Best Regards
    Thomas

    1. Haha thanks Thomas!
      We could try to start reading the book at the same time and discuss it after 🙂
      Not now though, give me at least a month 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment Spam Blocking by WP-SpamShield