Deep Work and Mastery
Get Disciplined, Get Productive
Deep Work and Mastery: Two Essential Elements to Career Fulfillment

Control. Power. Command.

Everyone wants these things. Every man wants to be the captain of his own ship, the charter of his own destiny.

Another word wraps all of those previous words up in a nice and tidy bow. Ready for it?

Freedom.

When someone says they want “freedom” they typically mean one of two things:

  • Not being “tied down” when it comes to relationships
  • Being able to do what they want, when they want, with whom they want

It’s the second one we’re concerned with.

Whenever people mention this, it’s easy to conjure up images of winning the lottery, expensive sports cars, yachts, lavish trips, not ever working again, etc. But that’s all putting the cart before the horse. These things are the effect, not the cause.

The true cause is one thing: career mobility.

You achieve this by developing skills that people are willing to pay for.

That’s not all – in order to develop skills want people want to pay for, you need sustained focus for long periods of time.

But here’s the kicker – the skill to focus deeply is becoming more and more rare.

The demand is going up while the supply is steadily decreasing.

We live an world of endless distractions. You can spend your whole life in a “neither here nor there” state without ever scratching the surface of your possibilities.

Added together: rare and valuable skills + ability to focus deeply = profit?

These two things will give you those “chips” you can cash in for the prize of “being able to do what you want, when you want, with whom you want”.

In this article, you’ll find out why this is the only way to achieve true mastery and control your destiny. You’ll also get some insight on how to do this from a “millennial” perspective. Sound good?

Of course it does.

Note: These ideas originated from Cal Newport who is one of the premier authorities on work and productivity. Check out his books “Deep Work” and “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” for more depth on these topics.

The Craftsman Manifesto

The Craftsman

Imagine this: you just got out of college. You got a few job offers from different companies but you don’t know which one you want to move on yet. However…two positions are of interest to you.

Company A is offering a position with a skill that you find extremely easy to do. It didn’t really take much thought or practice out of you. It pays well. Enough to cover living expenses plus some disposable income. Your job could be replaceable with an machine in a couple of years.

Company B is offering a position with a skill that you have zero knowledge of. The skill is quite difficult, but you’ll be getting on-the-job training in addition to a series of quarterly “check ins” from your superior to highlight strengths and weaknesses. This position demands the best out of you.The pay is lower than Company A’s position but offers incredible upside in later years. This is skill that if mastered, will make you almost irreplaceable.

Which one would you choose?

Most people would undoubtedly choose Company A because it’s easy. But what’s easy now becomes incredibly difficult in the future. The reverse is also true.

A “smart” person would choose Company B. Here’s why:

  • It offers a great opportunity for deliberate practice
  • It is challenging, which will keep your mind fully engaged and boost your self-esteem and confidence
  • It allows you to “plant” new seeds for a fertile career harvest in years to come

This person is also known as “the craftsman”.

This person has a mindset that can be summed up in the following words:

What have I done for you lately?

The craftsman desires to contribute value to the world.

He uses those skills to see how he can help others. He refines those skills through relentless and continuous deliberate practice. His other question is:

How can I continuously improve?

This is starkly contrasted with another mindset that a lot of people in the millennial generation fall into.

“It’s all about passion”

Passion Mindset

A lot of people heard Steve Jobs’ riveting speech (it was a good speech, I’m not bashing it) and came to the conclusion that passion is all you need to succeed. You just need to follow it, right? Right?

Wrong.

Passion doesn’t pay bills (usually). Instead, this mindset creates a “I’d rather not be here right now” mentality.

It demands (not asks):

What have you done for me lately?

Gimme. Gimme. Gimme. The passion mentality is verrrrry dangerous because it gives you a serious case of FOMO (c’mon…you don’t know what this means?).

Passion’s other question is:

How can I get by with the minimal amount possible?

You see this in workers who come in late and leave early, who surf the Internet constantly at work, who take loooooong breaks. You may mistakenly attribute it to a lack of passion in their career, when it is actually the opposite.

The passion mindset is one that seeks to take as much as it can without any upfront investment.

Why was The Four Hour Work Week  a runaway bestseller? It’s because a lot of people (mistakenly) interpreted it as a way to “get rich quick” without sacrificing time and money.

This mindset will keep you in career stagnation and a state of general listlessness.

“Follow your passion” is misguided and air-castle advice usually given by people who have already “made it” in their careers. It’s safe to say that the early years of their careers had a lot of drudgery and teeth grinding involved (no wonder dentists make a killing)!

You may think that I’m telling you to be a soulless automaton. Not at all Here’s the real deal about “following your passion”:

  1. Most young people don’t know what their passion is
  2. It takes time to develop
  3. It’s a side effect of mastery

Passion only comes about you get good at something or achieve mastery If you suck at something, chances are…you’re not going to like it that much.

A deep passion for something takes time to germinate and is a side product of a high degree of skill. This allows you to enter that elusive “flow” state where people are their most happy.

Steve Jobs himself didn’t even like computers or programming when he was at Reed College. If he decided to “follow his passion” blindly, he would have been likely teaching Transcendental Meditation somewhere and Apple would have never existed.

Now we know that the craftsman mindset is the only real way to career success. How do we start to develop the mindset of a craftsman? How can we dedicate ourselves to continuous improvement?

Simple. We focus.

The deeper the work, the better the fruit

In any skill set, there are several different areas that contribute to mastery in that skill set. For example, petroleum engineering involves knowledge of many different disciplines such as chemistry, biology, math, physics, design…etc.

As you can see, there’s A LOT that goes into this field. Many of these skills are out of the reach of us “normal people”, so the supply for petroleum engineers is low. Inversely, the demand is sky high – making this a rare and valuable skill.

How Long For Mastery?

It’s not really a question of “how long”, it’s a question of if you have the ability to indulge in sustained focus while hitting upon weak points.

10,000 hours has be touted as the “golden standard” for mastery but it is really about the quality of the time invested in addition to the field you are attempting to master. If you spend 10,000 hours making mistakes, you’ll be an expert mistake-maker.

Regardless of the hours, everyone agrees that it takes a long period of time in addition to deliberate practice to achieve mastery level in anything.

In order to become a great petroleum engineer…you need sustained focus for long periods of time and uninterrupted concentration. Period, there’s no way around it.

This is also known as “deep work” and it is highly tied to mastery and continuous improvement. If you combine this with the 80/20 rule or “Pareto Principle”, you will become a force of nature.

This includes not looking at your phone during a designated block session, not going to email or social media “just to check”. It means committing to the the task 100%. Simple right?

Well…

There’s a problem.

This all sounds well and good…but we live in a world that keeps mastery and deep work under its thumb.Long gone are the days of depth and immersion. It’s all about “multitasking”, instant gratification, and endless distractions.

Many people even think of mastery as an outdated concept, something that you no longer need to strive for. Why bother be good at one thing, when you can be good at many things?

This is why the passion mindset is so prevalent. We as a society have become so addicted to stimulation and pleasure that we no longer know what it’s like to contribute instead of consume. We have too many options and we get paralyzed with indecision.

But again… the passion mindset ensures that you will never find career satisfaction in whatever you do. You’ll just be jumping around non-strategically without any cause.

Stop the madness.

It’s time for you to step up the plate and decide that you’re gonna get really good at something. If you want to be the captain of your ship and write your own ticket, you need to make a decision to commit to excellence. No more beating around the bush.

Here’s some action steps for you.

1. Follow your primal inclinations – This is NOT the same as “follow your passion”. What did you like doing as a kid? What do you have a natural talent or knack for that you can capitalize on right now? If you liked opening up computers and putting them back together, you may make a great computer hardware analyst or a computer systems designer.

It’s been frequently stated that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any given subject. Work comprises 8 (or more) hours of your waking day. So whatever you’re doing for work, you will get better at – then you’ll plateau, then you slowly decline – like most people. A lot of workers are not engaged with their jobs because they’re like round pegs in square holes.

2. Practice deliberately – The only way you’ll get better at something is if you commit to conscious practice on getting better. Practice on areas where you’re weak instead of stronger ones.

3. Pareto was right – The Law of Forced Efficiency states that there is never enough time in the day to do everything, only the important things. What are your important things? Do those at the start of the day when you have the most mental RAM available to you.

You can also separate your day into A,B,C tasks. A tasks are tasks that you must do, B tasks are tasks that you’d like to do, C tasks are tasks that you can hand off to someone else. Do the A tasks first and don’t stop until they are 100% complete. You’ll be much more productive this way.

4. Deep Work – Lastly, you need to engage in concentrated work that will enable you to achieve mastery.

You need to train your brain to focus deeply for long periods of time.

Meditation is one of the best ways that I’ve found to help you get used to this period of concentration.

Create time blocks of periods where you’ll have uninterrupted concentration. That’s the only way to get into a groove and a flow state to accomplish big tasks and goals you have set for yourself.

Adrian of the Quintessential Man has an incredible guide on deep work immersion that’s worth checking out as well.

The call to mastery and deep work

We live in a world where permanent distraction and temptations are the king and queen. The question is: will you obey them? Will you bow down and obey their every beckon and call?

Try and focus on one task for 30 minutes straight. Most people will find it to be beyond them. The ability to focus has been completely fragmented. It’s up to you to rebuild it.

That is your biggest obstacle to deep work, mastery, and eventually – freedom, the word that makes everyone’s heart race.

Here’s the other cool part: there hasn’t been a person who has committed to this way of life who didn’t eventually become incredibly great at their field.

The path of mastery’s a path worth going on. I highly recommend it.

More resources:

I recommend reading all of these books as they give a deeper explanation of these concepts than I can do in a single post.

Mastery – Robert Greene
So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport
Deep Work – Cal Newport

One Comments

  • Vikas

    September 5, 2017

    Great Article …

    Reply

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