Book Discussion: Deep Work, Part 5 – Quit Social Media

Welcome to episode 145 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 5 of our discussion on Deep Work by Cal Newport. We’ll focus on the 3rd rule of deep work, which is quitting social media. Does it mean what it sounds like it means? Listen to find out!

Original Recording Date: 10-24-2021

Topics – "Rule #3 – Quit Social Media", Format Reminder, The Any Benefit and Craftsman Approaches to Tool Selection, Law of the Vital Few, Quitting Social Media, Using the Internet for Entertainment

00:57- Part 5 of our Discussion on Deep Work by Cal Newport.

  • Check out Part 1, Episode 141, where we discussed the “Why?” of the book (why deep work). Parts 2, Episode 142 3, Episode 143 were focused on the first rule of deep work, which was working deeply (the structure and the execution). Part 4, Episode 144 is focused on the second rule of deep work, embracing boredom.
  • Format: We’ll do some summarization about why we’re talking about deep work, then summarize what we read in Rule #3, answer some questions along the way:
    • Do we believe the point?
    • Does it apply to each of us?
    • Does it make us want to change?
    • What we anticipate changing, if anything.
  • One thing we realized is that we want to model how we’re going to try to read books that have a big impact on us from now on.
    • Summarize big points.
    • Take notes.
    • Record our reactions.
    • Record what we’re going to try to change.

2:37 – Why Are We Reading Deep Work?

The Deep Work Hypothesis

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Shallow Work: Non-cognitively demanding tasks that are often done while distracted which are easy to replicate and do not create a lot of value in the world
The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
  • We found this compelling and wanted to bring the information to our listeners.

3:56 – Rule #3 Quit Social Media

The author shares points from author Baratunde Thurston’s 25 days disconnected from the Internet.

These tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate

There isn’t really a debate about this, and it especially impacts those who are trying to generate value through focus and concentration.

Knowledge workers feel powerless in their discussions of network tools and attention

The idea of the Internet sabbatical or sabbath gained traction in some circles. The tools aren’t evil, but we need a different approach to deciding which ones to use and to what degree. At the same time, we need to reject “distracted hyper-connectedness” as a necessary state in our work.

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection

You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

People are using tools without weighing the observable negatives against the potential positives.

The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection

Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

This approach doesn’t ignore the potential positive impacts. Tools aren’t good or bad; they’re just tools. What we have to do is examine all aspects, positive and negative, of using the tools when we decide whether they go in our toolbox or not.

These strategies help to transition from the “any-benefit” approach to the “craftsman” approach.

6:49 – Reactions

Do I believe this?

  • John: Yes. I see the point. There’s an interesting contrast between the any benefit approach and the craftsman approach. Is the tool positive enough to keep on using it? I think most of the time we unconsciously make a choice. Newport is saying we should use the craftsman approach to all tools we use. The point of deep work is to get away from distraction. Social media is designed to capture and monetize it. My experience of Facebook was being annoyed by the alerts on my phone. I’d get alerts for a post from a friend I wasn’t mentioned in. I finally just uninstalled the app from my phone because the alerts were that distracting. I strongly believe in getting rid of social media that does not have a positive impact.
  • Nick: Yes. I attended AmpNavigator back in early October (mentioned in the Don Jones episodes – 137 and 138), and at least 3 of the sessions (if not more) spoke to a reduction or at least controlling of social media. Two of them were specifically centered on deep work. There’s something to this. One presenter even spoke about how he trimmed friends / connections on social media and the methodology behind accepting connection requests.

Does this apply to me?

  • John: Kind of. I’m mostly off of Facebook. I use LinkedIn mostly professionally, and I am very task-focused in my use of it. The DM is the alert I’d respond to the quickest. I don’t think there are many other networks I’m on. There’s some communities I’d like to use more, to be honest, like Spiceworks. I got so much from that community, and I have not found an effective way for me to engage with it without getting lost in it. I’m wondering whether there’s a positive benefit to “giving back to the community” which I can take into account. Maybe we could ask Cal Newport.
  • Nick: The thinking about it like a craftsman (analyzing benefits and negatives) is not really something I have done. Maybe the benefits are to the greater community (i.e. more than just to me) and need to be considered. I think many others probably are in the same boat. To the average person, doing so much analysis on the front end about the why / benefits of a specific tool is probably a turn off (i.e. you’re making me think too hard). But I definitely see the logic behind it.

Does it make me want to change behavior, and if so, what will I change to align myself with this idea?

  • John: I think it confirms my existing behavior. To be honest, I’m generally extra critical when I read something that confirms my beliefs. And I do see the downside of it (not engaging with social media). I’ve drifted away from people I could stay in touch with more easily on Facebook. I’ve missed their life events. But I could I maintain those connections in other ways. I definitely understand the point, and if anything it’s made me want to gain the benefits which could be had from a tool like Facebook.
  • Nick: I mentioned in one of our previous episodes the need to just check LinkedIn and Twitter. I realize that isn’t constructive, but I do feel using Twitter and LinkedIn are of benefit to help me keep up with professional trends and find new potential show guests. I’d say it does make me want to do a bit more analysis to make my use of any new tools more constructive. And this goes back to embracing boredom, letting my breaks be breaks, even if just a few minutes.
  • John: It’s funny that I didn’t even think of Twitter. As one of the tools I use. Maybe it’s because I do not engage with it that much.
  • Nick: I get trends and news of the tech industry from Twitter / LinkedIn (lots of things to stumble upon).
  • John: It’s a low friction way to have discussions in these areas. Writing blog articles is high friction (maintain a blog, keep up the content, help people find it, etc.). Twitter and LinkedIn are more of a broadcast.
  • Nick: When working for large company like we do, I have found so many helpful blogs and other content on Twitter that I would not have found otherwise.
  • John: Those tidbits can’t be broadcast on Twitter and LinkedIn only. Perhaps we need more analysis (the following points).

18:29 – Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits

Whether or how to use a specific tool is dependent on the context of the person making the decision and the type of work they do. There’s no single answer to whether a tool is net positive or negative (depends on the person).

Identify your main high-level goals

Goals shouldn’t be too specific. You should probably have both professional and personal goals.

List for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal.

Activities should be specific.

Consider the network tools you currently use and ask whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive impact, a substantially negative impact, or little impact

The Law of the Vital Few

In many settings, 80 percent of a given effect is due to just 20 percent of the possible causes.”

We should spend our time and attention on the few things that get us 80% of the benefit rather than taking on the negatives of the things that can, at best, bring us the last 20%. In most situations, turning out the best work possible represents the 80%. Connectivity probably falls in the last 20%.

20:55 – Reactions

Do I believe this?

  • John: This is a restatement of the Pareto principle – 80% of the outcomes are from 20% of the causes. This is the first challenging task. I don’t want to list my goals and activities that support them. You’re asking me to be explicit when reading a book, and I would rather think in the abstract. This is hard work. But it’s a worthwhile task. I found it to be a difficult ask, and ask a result, I believe it. I’m way more likely to believe something if it’s challenging than if it is easy. Probably the 80% of the benefit is doing the really good work.
  • Nick: This is analogous to finding a best fit regression based on data points. I like the idea of aligning use of tools with goals. It’s making the list of personal and professional goals that doesn’t sound so fun. I believe it, but I don’t want to.
  • John: I’m totally on board with that. It is challenging. I wonder what it is about this that is challenging. Is it the accountability aspect?
  • Nick: It’s too much work. It’s too much structure.
  • John: It’s extra work that is cognitively demanding.

Does this apply to me?

  • John: Yes, clearly it does. I have to resist the idea that I’m already not using these tools and actually go through the process. I don’t want to, and it feels like a lot of work. The idea that I have not done this is troubling.
  • Nick: I think it does, but it requires far more thoughtfulness than perhaps I had considered in the past. I just don’t want to do it and don’t really care about the why.

Does it make me want to change behavior, and if so, what will I change to align myself with this idea?

  • John: Yes. I need to challenge myself to actually set out goals and activities which support them. How hard can it be? I could probably hammer it out verbally in 5 minutes. That’s a good thing to do regardless of the context of assessing network tools. Once you have the goals it should be pretty easy to come up with the tasks that support them. And I need to keep it in a place that I can review and refine it regularly. Maybe it’s the implication of all that work. I can already see that I’d probably add text chains to stay in touch with people I care about. Maybe it’s the idea of taking on the work without experiencing the emotional payoff that I know is positive.
  • Nick: Yes and no. I see the reasoning here in looking at the benefits / impact. I do think trying to look at how this could help more than just me is a smart tactic. When I think of modeling this kind of thing for my daughter, I get more motivated to actually do it than otherwise.
  • John: That reminds me about the giving back to the community that has brought us benefit.

29:51 – Quit Social Media

Systematically sort through the networking and connectivity tools (or behaviors) you use and see what the effect of quitting them for 30 days is without announcing it. Then ask: Would your life have been significantly better using it? Did anyone care that you weren’t using it? If you answered “no” to both questions, quit that activity/service/behavior permanently.

Social media is especially insidious at its ability to generate fear of missing out. It also allows the illusion of an audience, even though that audience is shallow. Writing medium to long form blog posts and building an audience through quality of output is difficult and sticky. Short form tweets are easy, shallow, and ephemeral.

31:04 – Reactions

Do I believe this?

  • John: This, I’ve already done. The term “significantly” is a rough one to assess. Being off Facebook, I know I have missed major life events of friends. When I moved from Southern California to Northern California Facebook would have been the way to keep in touch. I don’t think I was using it that much at the time. I would like to have the benefit of staying in touch, but I don’t know that taking on the distraction of Facebook is the way to get that benefit back. There are other avenues to get this benefit.
  • Nick: I definitely do. And the FOMO comment reminds me of Episode 127 with Tom Hollingsworth and how it can eventually lead to burnout. It’s funny how we keep getting back to burnout.
  • John: Constant engagement and distraction is one of the major ingredients to burnout. Feelings of insignificance is another.

Does this apply to me?

  • John: Yes. I can definitely see how going through this process for what we think of as vital communities would be helpful to breaking an addictive cycle to them. I went from hours per day to ours per year in Spiceworks, for example. I can see it in my behavior around joining other online communities. Often times I join a community around a specific topic, discuss the topic, and then don’t logon again. I don’t think of them as deep connections and treat them that way.
  • Nick: Yes. I’m very rarely on Facebook but didn’t quit it completely. I logged out of it on my phone and can only login via my personal computer. I was spending too much time just scrolling through it each day. I have done a better job of not constantly checking Twitter / LinkedIn on weekends at least. I can leave my phone in the other room and don’t have to be listening for a phone call. I still feel I could do better during the week. I like the idea of not making the assumption that everyone will miss me if I take a break for 30 days from social media. The idea is to see if that is actually true, and maybe that will give you an idea of whether a specific platform does or should have an impact on your life.
  • John: If there is some kind of professional organization that you moderate, etc. that only meets on Facebook of LinkedIn, it is a tool you can’t really drop for 30 days. The question becomes more about having it on your mobile phone and if that is needed to handle the task or do the job. Is it something you can just use on a computer in a regimented way (i.e. 15 minutes per day)? The thing you said about alerts rang true. I have been systematically been turning off which apps are allowed to alert me. If I get direct message or get mentioned, maybe I do want to be notified about it. But if there is only a general conversation, do I need an alert on that?
  • Nick: Alert fatigue isn’t just for IT operations.
  • John: The problem is platform-run algorithms are choosing the proper alerts to try and keep me engaged with the platform. My rules are simple. I want to know when I am mentioned, when someone is sending me a direct message, or when someone is wrong on the internet. That last one is the one I am trying to avoid.
  • John: The rules are simple. I want to be alerted only when Nerd Journey or I am mentioned. I want to go in and check out feeds of other career oriented discussions / podcasts / previous guests / others I follow manually. The idea that I could just look on my feed and trip across what I want is not true. The feed isn’t being curated by me. No, this feels more like confirmation. If I need to go find the things, then I need to invest time to go and find those things and not leave it up to social media algorithms to find it for me.

Does it make me want to change behavior, and if so, what will I change to align myself with this idea?

  • John: This feels like confirmation of what I am already doing. I’ve quit the things I needed to quit, but if anything I need to filter alerts a little better.
  • Nick: I think I’m already doing a little bit of this by decreasing the time spent on each platform. I will say the fear of missing out gets a little less with less use. I still need to reign in the need to check LinkedIn and Twitter constantly.

42:10 – Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself

Using sites that monetize your attention for entertainment is dangerous. They provide an appealing alternative to boredom and are engineered to keep your attention. Using them is damaging to our ability to concentrate without distraction.

Instead, provide some structure to your time off with hobbies, reading, or spending quality time with friends and family. Give yourself something meaningful to do for all of your waking hours.

Don’t think you can read this and get all the information the book covers on this point! We only have so much time to speak to it on the air. Go back and read it for yourself.

43:42 – Reactions

Do I believe this?

  • John: Yes. I can definitely see this as an extension of the “embrace boredom” strategy. If you use the internet to entertain yourself, you are indulging in distracted behavior, quick hits of dopamine, and doing a shallow task that feels like you’re accomplishing something.
  • Nick: Yes. The sites not only monetize your attention but rather can set you up to make purchases you don’t need.
  • John: Now we’re back to the any benefit strategy.

Does this apply to me?

  • John: Yes. I think I said before that YouTube is my big downfall, especially since it’s an app on my television (Roku). I’m really going to find it challenging to apply this.
  • Nick: I don’t find myself spending too much time on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other platform. If you ask my wife, she will tell you I am mesmerized by television. It doesn’t matter what is on. If she’s watching a show I will stand there for a minute and just stare at it until she asks if I am going to sit down and watch or leave the room. I don’t know why I am mesmerized by it, but because I am, I watch very little of it. There are so many things I could watch on Disney+ alone.

Does it make me want to change behavior, and if so, what will I change to align myself with this idea?

  • John: Yes, but part of me doesn’t want to change. Since I read this, I’ve started to think critically on how I use YouTube. Maybe I’ll program some things to watch from my desktop, and limit my time to that, without indulging in the recommendation engine while I’m watching? I have turned off autoplay (a long time ago), which is annoying. That being said, scrolling through recommendations is something I want to cut down and approach in a more programmatic way.
  • Nick: Meh. I don’t pursue entertainment that much and rarely watch TV these days (i.e. limit tv because it mesmerizes me). If I keep myself busy with hobbies and other things to do, it’s easier not to fall into the trap of whatever your doomscroll habit is.
    But I will say I could get lost in training and enablement if someone let me.

49:25 – Overall Reactions?

  • John: This seemed simple until I thought about the entertainment point and remembered the idea of embracing boredom. Overall, I definitely see the upside in refraining from social media and the internet as an entertainment tool. It’s too addictive and distracting.
  • Nick: The analysis seems like a lot, and I think it is. Again, I think it gets easier once you start doing it. People will read this advice and feel like it’s too much work. I see all of this as a better way to help you see what is and set boundaries to help you change it if things have run off the rails. I don’t think we should kill off all internet use, but I do think applying some controls to the way we use it and how much time is spent using it is smart and healthy. When we talk about social media, think about how you are accessing it and how much time you’re spending.
  • John: Maybe you only need to do the analysis if you need to have a strong argument to keep one of these tools? If you’re ok with letting them go, why do the work? I suppose you could make an argument that you need to do the analysis for other things.
  • Nick: It would be super interesting to have a group of middle and high school students do this type of analysis (what tools are in use and how much time is spent) and compare it their parents’ analysis or perhaps people in the tech industry…and to see if the sample population considers any negatives of these platforms. I didn’t consider the negatives of the platforms in the past. Around the time I stopped teaching high school math (2007), Facebook was really gaining popularity.
  • John: I imagine distraction in the classroom is a problem regardless of what we’re talking about. Unless you’re thinking about the context of distraction being a destructive force in your life, you likely wouldn’t see any downsides.

Contact us if you’ve read Deep Work and have reactions you think we missed, we’d like to hear from you. Or if you have other books you’d recommend. Or, reach out if you need help on the journey.

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