I recently wrote an article exploring the brain chemistry that distinguishes the thinking and communication styles of introverts vs extroverts. Through researching the article, it raised the question of whether my introversion affected my ability to deep dive into subjects to study and create rich materials for projects.
It turns out that introverts do find greater satisfaction from ‘deep work’. There are two opposites noticed: those often-academic introverts who primarily function in deep work and neglect rudimentary administrative tasks; introverts who are, ironically, drowning in shallow work.
Defining deep work
Passion projects and professional activities are performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that tests cognitive capabilities.
Tasks that are logistical or minor and can be performed in a state of distraction, such as administrative duties to reply to an email, sitting passively in meetings, or scrolling through social media.
The super benefits of deep work
Introverts that love deep work are more important than most extroverted leaders recognise. With the right encouragement and environment, they can unlock cognitive superpowers! Professor Carl Newport explains it is “becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [… thus] the few who cultivate this skill […] will thrive.”
People who regularly access long flow states, i.e., introverts who analyse and explore subjects at length, are more “open to a variety of experiences, [and] keep learning until the day they die” according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
This enthusiasm for knowledge teamed with regular training and challenging cognitive functions has a huge positive impact on productivity, adaptability, and subsequent happiness.
Deep workers enjoy unparalleled focus and an improved sense of self as they achieve broader, more substantial goals and understand how valuable their time can be.
The trouble is that many people lose sight of this once they leave academia and enter a busy, distraction-frenzied workforce.
Modern connectivity makes us lose sight
Many of us spend our days doing shallow work which creates busyness but not necessarily productiveness. Oftentimes the number of tasks performed in the workplace outweighs the value of output, which is where introverts can feel at a loss.
Newport cites modern networking tools like email, Slack messages, Twitter, and infotainment sites like Buzzfeed as the tools that “undermine” our ability to do deep work because they provide a smaller but more instant gratification.
Steps for introverts reprioritising deep work for a satisfactory work-life
Make deep work a habit
Acknowledge when you’re using the likes of social media or instant messaging as a distraction tactic. Not only does this waste precious time, but it also destroys your concentration for other subjects or activities you used to enjoy; your brain seeks out the easiest outlets when faced with a challenge.
Instead, fill in a couple of clues in your favourite puzzle, read a chapter of a book, finish a podcast episode, whatever it is that productively fights against boredom.
Master your deep work muscle
If the contents of this article resonate with you, chances are that your deep work ‘muscle’ may have wasted a little. I’m certainly guilty of giving in to the urge to scroll on social media and drop a few careless likes when I’m procrastinating, despite thriving in a deep work state. According to the American Psychological Association, willpower is a limited resource. So, starting with shorter periods of deep work, like smaller weights in the gym, will help to build up the reserve for you to take on the bigger projects without as many temptations in the long run.
Keep a to-do list
Being able to see everything that needs to be accomplished in a day can be both overwhelming and preparatory, depending on your mindset. To-do lists allow you to gauge how to proportion shallow and deep work each day, but the key is to always include a time for long flow to keep flexing that muscle.
It means that if you suddenly remember something you need to do amid your allocated deep work time, you can put it aside on the list, rather than distracting yourself by trying to remember it.
Designate periods for shallow work
High-quality deep-thinking introverts are an increasingly rarer commodity in the workforce than they have been in the past, due to the superficial dopamine hits from instant communication networks that suit the working memory of extroverts.
Employers should recognise that having these analytical, studious characteristics in a world of open offices and home working distractions should be encouraged, just as much as the quick solution-based extroverts in their team.
Discussions to find the right time in your work diary to manage shallow work, and then block out periods for distraction-free deep work, should be approached from the angle of optimizing your value output.
There’s an audio on TikTok that says, ‘so this is what I talk about a lot… with no one but myself.’ Well, guess what? Start at home: use your deep work and dive into your geek wormhole and explore all the subjects that bring you joy – introvert or not. Your professional life will thank you for it.