First goal of the new year: Deep Work

What skill should I be working on right now to set myself up for success in the next 15 years? I’ve been thinking about this for the last year, the last five years, maybe even for the last eight years. Along the way I’ve had and tried a bunch of different ideas. Motion design. Understanding filming, editing and video. Leadership. Objective-C. Management. UX design.

My cop out answer so far has been to be a lifelong learner. True enough, but that’s not specific enough corner a market. Blair Enns’ Win Without Pitching shows the way to make your design studio an expert studio in a niche, but as an individual not seeking additional freelance work, it’s hard to act on that.

I’ve had my eye on The Focus Course since it launched in the summer of 2015, and I’d like to work through it sometime this year, but what would I focus on?

When Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was on Product Hunt Live a week or so ago, I asked a question about what kind of thing he recommends focusing on, and I was one of the few whose question wasn’t answered. But reading his responses to others got me excited about his new book, Deep Work. Since he didn’t answer my question, I picked up his book instead.

He answered my question. Sort of.

The answer I was looking for is that focus is a skill. Deep concentration is a skill. Like any skill, it requires practice. The ability to shift into focus, and to apply concentration for periods of deep work is a skill that requires intentional practice. Learning to structure your life to make time for deep work also takes a lot of structure. If we only have a limited amount of self control, and concentration saps that, then we need to establish structures and routines to support and cue that narrowing of attention.

There’s always going to be a need for people who can do deep work, and the number of people who can or will do it is in decline. It fills me with hope to see that regardless of how technology changes things in the next decade or two, that here is a skill I can work on that will be applicable and valuable regardless of what comes next.

I don’t typically set resolutions for new year as much as goals. I’ve been hovering around ideas of some kind of regular non-spiritual meditation like The Mindful Geek , The Focus Course, and other such things on for a while, but without something achievable to work towards, I haven’t taken the plunge on anything.

Building a skill of deep work is the anchor point I’ve been looking for. I can work on that skill and work on building the accompanying structures regardless of what my current focus is, and know that I’m building something useful for the future at the same time.

I feel at once both relaxed and excited. It’s great to have some kind of a direction that I can act on in my day-to-day again. And it feels like this is the anchor skill that will enable all the other things I’ve had such a hard time digging into.

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