New decade, new you. (Okay it’s usually a new year, not a decade but you get the picture.
Some folks believe that every 7 years our cells renew such that we physically become someone else. Others feel that we fill the shoes of a soul that has zipped through the cosmos countless times. Whichever way, if we want to change the way we work — we first need to change ourselves.
And this needs to be happening all the damn time.
Acting yourself into new a way of thinking is a lot more effective than trying to think your way there. In this spirit, here are 3 questions to ask yourself so starting today — you become discerningly doper.
Achieving ‘dopeness’ is really an age-old idea dating back to Aristotle’s Eudaimonia. Loosely translating to human flourishing, Eudaimon is all about living in good spirits. It can also extend to your higher self by achieving your unique potential. Likewise, dopeness can be realised through small gains and the commitment to continuously learn, practice, and improve. There may be countless Medium posts touting how to hack your way there, but there is no substitute for showing up and doing the work.
The key to living well comes when it’s virtuously earned.
If we’re really serious about pursuing excellence we need to put an end to the god awful habit of multi-tasking. We fool ourselves in believing we’re doing many things simultaneously when in reality we’re just switching between tasks super fast. Today we ‘flex’ this hyped-up skill by yapping on the phone with in-laws, watering the plants, and watching Ellen on mute.
Throw in how we’re suffering from a ubiquitous low-grade malaise littered with bouts of loneliness and existential dread — and the cards are stacked against us.
“The attention economy has a financial incentive to keep us in a state of individualised anxiety and an obligation to constantly be reacting and producing,” says the author of How to do Nothing, Jenny Odell.
If we are what we repeatedly do, then the question to ask is, “How can I best direct my energy today?” The answer, it seems, isn’t about doing things at the same time or even the right way — but doing the right thing.
Second Home members report that they get fuelled up — not by grooming their social feeds — but by nature, by others, and by their own reflections. Intuitively we all know what gives us energy — we just need to be listening and constantly levelling up.
Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, best known for his research on experts, found that what separates stand-out musicians, artists, chess players, and others is not just how long and hard they practice — but how they train. Peak performers punch 60–90 minutes of highly focused training, immediately followed by short breaks. And, crucially, the maximum amount of focussed attention these high performers are capable of in a day is four and a half hours.
Computer scientist Cal Newport’s Deep Work popularised this research. Newport urges us to take on cognitively demanding activities in a completely distraction-free state. You’ll end up more creative and a hell of a lot more focussed. Promise.
So instead of looking at how we spend our time, we might stay aware of how we’re funnelling our working spirit. Startup entrepreneurs, workaholics, struggle pornographers, and many others may balk at this.
But ask yourself this: Would you want your nurse taking care of you at the end of a 12-hour shift or at the beginning of a four-hour one? (Your answer is why a pioneering Dutch healthcare company actually offers four-hour shifts.)
Deep attention lets us get on with doing our most demanding, important, and creative work. Think of researching, planning, strategizing, writing, creating, and other ‘ings’ that you know you do best when you’re deep in the flow.
Hyper attention lets us scan our surroundings and once helped keep us stay alive when we were hunter-gathers. The point here is that you can perform these activities with less concentration and often using little brainpower. It’s OK if you fracture your attention because you don’t need a lot of it in the first place.
Now, intentionally batch your work into deep and hyper categories and keep them wholly distinct from one another. Like oil and water, they just don’t mix well.
Knowing your biological clock, or chronotype, is essential for doing great work. Like all living organisms, our bodies are governed by the same physiological principles in a 24-hour rhythm. You might think you’re an early bird or night owl but it’s more than likely you’re somewhere in the middle — a third bird. This means you’ll experience those dreaded afternoon dips sometime between 2 or 3 p.m.
SO….here is: do your most challenging and important work (the deep attention tasks you just listed) when you’re most energised. Since your circadian rhythms are uniquely yours, you also need to tweak it such that you regularly hit your stride. Of course, life happens and it’s not always possible to rock your work to your rhythms — the notion is simply to try. Just knowing when you should and shouldn’t work is a sure-fire way to peak performance.
Your one task: Block out bursts (anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes) for your deep attention work, like so:
With your bursts mapped out — you now know your golden hours. Stick to them and, well, you’ll be gold.
Managing your energy and having the right attitude is important if you want to do great work. Second Homers also said that it’s in the realm of fear and the abyss of the unknown that they perform at our best. Often when we lack competence or confidence — it forces us to rise to the occasion.
It’s worth doing an audit of the resources you have at bay as well. We tend to bite off more than we can chew when we know our bandwidth is limited. This is where healthy boundaries come in.
And sometimes, the biggest catalyst for dopeness comes from constraints. Whether it’s family obligations or training for your next marathon — pressures (either set by yourself or others) helps you to be more creative, and rather ironically, open up new possibilities.
While our ancestors saw work as a sacrifice that made them morally worthy, we see work as a moral good that is worthy in and of itself. From caretaking to toy making, from bricklaying to pie-baking — the main driver comes from within.
Still, working more is rarely the answer to increasing our dopeness. This is precisely why famed philosopher Bertrand Russell — in a 1932 essay for Harper’s — advocated for a shorter workday. The dude knew all too well that working smarter is the ticket.
Work has become an experience rather than a physical place. The office now lives in your pocket or purse. Meanwhile, the opportunities to indulge our curiosity in work have never been greater. This paradigm shift in work is first and foremost a psychological one. How we feel about our work is entirely up to us.
Human beings crave open, fluid, and personalised systems. Indeed, the world of work is gradually opening to provide just this. The trick it would seem is to do the work that matters while staying in sync with your badass self.
The dopeness will emerge.
This article has been adapted from Shapers — the upcoming book published by Wiley (July 2, 2020).