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jerryking : knowledge_workers   7

For workers, challenge is all to easily ducked
July 2017 | Financial Times | Tim Harford

Cal Newport: Deep Work
Robert Twiggs : Micromastery

The modern knowledge worker — a programmer, a lawyer, a newspaper columnist — might appear inoculated from Adam Smith’s concern. We face not monotony but the temptations of endless variety, with the entire internet just a click away. All too easily, we can be pulled into the cycle of what slot-machine designers call a “ludic loop”, repeating the same actions again and again. Check email. Check Facebook. Check Instagram. Check Twitter. Check email. Repeat....what is a ludic loop but “performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same”?

Smith was concerned about jobs that provided no mental challenge: if problems or surprises never arose, then a worker “has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in . . . removing difficulties which never occur.”

For the modern knowledge worker, the problem is not that the work lacks challenge, but that the challenge is easily ducked. This point is powerfully made by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Work that matters is often difficult. It can be absorbing in mid-flow and satisfying in retrospect, but it is intimidating and headache-inducing and full of false starts.

[Responding to ] Email is easier. And reading Newport’s book I realised that email posed a double temptation: not only is it an instant release from a hard task, but it even seems like work. Being an email ninja looks professional and seems professional — but all too often, it is displacement activity for the work that really matters.

A curious echo of Smith’s warning comes in Robert Twigger’s new book Micromastery. Mr Twigger sings the praises of mastering one small skill at a time: not how to cook, but how to make the perfect omelette; not how to build a log cabin, but how to chop a log. We go deep — as Newport demands — but these sharp spikes of skill are satisfying, not too hard to acquire and a path to true expertise.

They also provide variety. “Simply growing up in the premodern period guaranteed a polymathic background,” writes Twigger. To prosper in the premodern era required many different skills; a smart person would be able to see a problem from many angles. A craft-based, practical upbringing means creative thinking comes naturally. “It is only as we surge towards greater specialisation and mechanisation that we begin to talk about creativity and innovation.”

Three lessons:
(1) learning matters. Smith wanted schooling for all; Twigger urges us to keep schooling ourselves. Both are right.
(2) serious work requires real effort, and it can be tempting to duck that effort. Having the freedom to avoid strenuous thinking is a privilege I am glad to have — but I am happier when I don’t abuse that freedom. [Mavity says: “If you need to produce an idea, isolating yourself can be enormously beneficial.”......“How you do that in a big open-plan office with 100 other people trying to be creative at the same time?.......Solitude is in hopelessly short supply at a time when companies are captivated by the financial allure of the open-plan office and its evil twin, hot-desking. ]
(3) old-fashioned craft offered us something special. To Smith it was the challenge that came from solving unpredictable problems. To Twigger it is the variety of having to do many small things well. To Newport, it is the flow that comes from deep immersion in a skill that requires mastery. Perhaps all three mean the same thing.

Smith realised that the coming industrial age threatened these special joys of work. The post-industrial age threatens them too, in a rather different way. ....“The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments,” wrote Smith. So whether at work or at play, let us take care that we employ ourselves wisely.
Adam_Smith  books  busywork  Cal_Newport  distractions  expertise  GTD  hard_work  industrial_age  knowledge_workers  lessons_learned  productivity  polymaths  premodern  procrastination  skills  solitude  thinking_deliberatively  Tim_Harford  what_really_matters 
august 2017 by jerryking
Why Deep Work Matters in a Distracted World
Posted by Taylor Pipes on 23 Feb 2017

Work accomplished = (time spent) x (intensity)

How to create meaningful work
Deep work does not have to be tedious. In fact, it can be enjoyable, creative, meditative, and thought-provoking. Here are some tactics to integrate the principles of deep work into your schedule:

Work deeply. It takes great patience and practice to get to the point where you can integrate long stretches of deep work into your schedule. Newport created an equation to explain the intensity required of deep work and compared it to students who pulled all-nighters in college.
Work accomplished = (time spent) x (intensity)

Work at a high level with dynamic and intense intervals that increase over time to produce a desirable outcome. Get in the zone for at least 90 minutes and build up to periods that last anywhere from two to four hours, or more.

Protect your time. Maintain a set of rituals and routines to ease deep work into your day more easily. Try implementing scheduling tactics into your workflow like:
Tallies – Keep a tally of the hours you spend working, or when you reach important milestones like pages read or words written.

Deep scheduling – Try scheduling deep work hours well in advance on a calendar, like two or four weeks ahead of time.

Scheduling and tracking time has a huge benefit of giving time back. Many academics, authors, and scientists have been able to produce ample amount of work while working normal hours and having time for personal pursuits or family on evenings and weekends.

Train your brain to do nothing. Try for a moment, to sit still and do nothing. How long do you find it takes until the social stimuli and buzzing signals of your mobile device prove too much? If you can embrace sitting quietly meditating or thinking, or even staring into space, then you can train your brain to spend more time in deeper work.
Quit swimming upstream. Decide for yourself what restrictions you can place on email and social media by removing it from your work week altogether, or by logging out and staying off for an entire day. Evaluate your personal and professional life and experiment where social fits and where it doesn’t. Your result may be a month-long digital detox, or completely cutting the cord on social.
Cut the shallow work. Endless meeting requests and instant email responses are turning knowledge workers into ‘human routers’ that create the shallow work that defines many of workplaces. We’ve been groomed to reply and respond because it feels like we’re accomplishing something, when in reality, we’re not.
attention  attention_spans  Cal_Newport  distractions  focus  GTD  hard_work  knowledge_workers  personal_accomplishments  productivity  rituals  routines  sustained_inquiry  thinking_deliberatively 
july 2017 by jerryking
A radical rethink of ‘decision factories’
Nov. 17 2013 | The Globe and Mail | HARVEY SCHACHTER.

In regular factories, employees are consumed by repetitive daily tasks. But in decision factories, the focus is on project work. Whether it’s developing an advertising campaign or preparing a budget or coming up with a new product, knowledge workers operate in project mode. “You often hear in organizations the rhetoric that a project is taking away from the job. But most white-collar work is projects,” he said in an interview.

However, that isn’t recognized by companies or their staff. Instead of organizing work around projects, it is organized around jobs. Essentially, each job is based on the amount of work a person faces at their busiest moment – on projects, actually. But when that project is completed, workers aren’t immediately transferred to a new venture, since the just-finished project is seen as something they took on for a time. They return to their normal work, now quite reduced, between projects.

Mr. Martin drawns an analogy to power plants, which are built to handle peak demand on the hottest day in July, even though for much of the year they operate at much lower demand. “Organizations do that with people: They staff to peak load. Since people don’t want to seem not busy in slack periods, they fill it up with various initiatives. That’s why the day before the 10,000 people are let go, it seems like you need them all. But you really don’t,” he said .

In his article, he cited the example of a marketing vice-president, who is busy during the launch of an important project or when a competitive threat arises. But between those events, she will have few decisions to make, and may have little to do . The same is true throughout the knowledge factory.

The key to breaking the binge-and-purge cycle in knowledge work and making more efficient use of employees, Mr. Martin argues, is to redefine the employment contract and hire people for project work rather than specific jobs. He believes that in such a framework, we would need only 70 per cent of the people we currently have in a given decision factory.

So instead of being hired to handle a specific job for 52 weeks of the year, people would be hired for a specific level of work. They would still be working for the full year – they aren’t freelancers or contract workers – but would be scheduled to different projects and work with different leaders.
Harvey_Schachter  Roger_Martin  HBR  projects  knowledge_workers  project_management  project_work  employment_contracts  freelancing  gig_economy  peak_load  peak_demand  busywork  binge-and-purge_cycles  on-demand 
november 2013 by jerryking
Second acts
Second acts
Anonymous. Harvard Business Review80. 12 (Dec 2002): 10.
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Knowledge workers outlive organizations, and they are mobile. Management consultant Peter Drucker says the need to manage oneself is therefore creating a revolution in human affairs. A recently completed study of dozens of men and women - managers and other professionals in their 30s, 40s, and 50s - who attempted to change careers in midstream found that some failed and some succeeded. The study concluded that the best way to escape from an unsatisfying career was to stop thinking and start doing. Professionals have to work their way into a new way of working. Managing career transitions is not only important for individuals, it is crucial for companies as well.
Second_Acts  HBR  knowledge_workers  ProQuest  Peter_Drucker  execution  transitions  Managing_Your_Career 
may 2012 by jerryking
Managing Oneself
January 2005 | HBR | Peter Drucker.

We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you’ve got ambition and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession, regardless of where you started out.

But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their employees’ careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do those things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself—not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.
howto  Peter_Drucker  knowledge_workers  Managing_Your_Career  self-analysis  introspection  strengths  weaknesses  self-awareness  It's_up_to_me 
march 2012 by jerryking
A Wandering Mind Heads Toward Insight - WSJ.com
JUNE 19, 2009 | Wall Street Journal | by ROBERT LEE HOTZ.

the crucial role of insight is a cherished theme. To these epiphanies, we owe the concept of alternating electrical current, the discovery of penicillin, and on a less lofty note, the invention of Post-its, ice-cream cones, and Velcro. The burst of mental clarity can be so powerful that, as legend would have it, Archimedes jumped out of his tub and ran naked through the streets, shouting to his startled neighbors: "Eureka! I've got it."

In today's innovation economy, engineers, economists and policy makers are eager to foster creative thinking among knowledge workers. Until recently, these sorts of revelations were too elusive for serious scientific study.....Lately, though, researchers have been able to document the brain's behavior during Eureka moments by recording brain-wave patterns and imaging the neural circuits that become active as volunteers struggle to solve anagrams, riddles and other brain teasers.

To be sure, we've all had our "Aha" moments. They materialize without warning, often through an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem. "An 'aha' moment is any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light," says psychologist John Kounios at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "It could be the solution to a problem; it could be getting a joke; or suddenly recognizing a face. It could be realizing that a friend of yours is not really a friend."

These sudden insights, they found, are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning.
Aha!_moments  brainstorming  creativity  daydreaming  epiphanies  human_brains  insights  imagination  knowledge_workers  mapping  mental_dexterity 
june 2009 by jerryking
A Looming American Diaspora
February 2009 HBR article by Paul Saffo. While U.S. companies
are worrying about how to recruit talent from abroad in the face of
increasingly stringent immigration rules, a different and far more
significant challenge is quietly building. When young knowledge workers
look for a job today, they seriously consider companies half a world
away. Homegrown American talent is moving abroad, in what could become a
huge shift in the world economic order.
American  Diaspora  emigration  expatriates  globalization  knowledge_workers  policy  protectionism 
february 2009 by jerryking

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