Deep Work and Closing the Bar

Over this past weekend I borrowed Deep Work: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport from the local library. True to the spirit of the book I blocked out large chunks of the weekend to read it. In the book Cal Newport drives home his hypothesis that we spend most of our time not doing the sort of work that requires deep concentration. We're too distracted to get ourselves into the spaces where truly great work can flourish (what Cal calls "Deep Work"). The first part makes the case for having deep work states, and the second half of the book describes four rules that Cal uses to allow himself more deep work states. What was in the book wasn't particularly newsworthy to anyone who has lived near a computer in the 21st century, but what was interesting to me was his third rule: quit social media. Cal began with the story of a farmer who was considering whether to buy a hay baler to get the hay from his fields. The farmer weighed the pros and cons of this decision and ultimately realized that he would be better served purchasing the hay for his animals rather than make his own hay. That seems counter-intuitive (why buy when you can make your own for "free"), but the farmer explained that the time and effort in making hay didn't offset the overall cost. In the end he would be losing money making his own hay rather than picking it up from someone else. This relates to social media in what Cal terms the "any-benefit". The "any-benefit" is where we over-value something if we get any benefit from it at all. Even if we're losing out in the equation we still cling on to the things that we feel are benefiting us in some small way.

I've mentioned that Google+ is going away. Google+ (G+) was a network that I put a significant amount of effort into, both with posting content and maintaining a presence. For me G+ was like a wonderful bar, filled with interesting people and good conversations. I could wander by any table and find something interesting to talk about, or at the very least I could show my appreciation by "plussing" someone's post or comment. With the announcement that G+ is going away a lot of folks are trying hard to find out where everyone is headed. Now that the bar is closing people are making their plans on where they want to head. For some they want to head to other bars to try to replicate the same conversations they had on G+. Others are slowly realizing that G+ was somewhere special and they can't replicate those conversations anywhere. Still others are wondering if they should even pursue a presence social media at all.

After reading about the "any-benefit" I started thinking about my own usage of social media and what I really want out of it. When I joined G+ I found groups of RPG gamers and designers. Their conversations gave me insights into the realm of RPGs. I saw people talk about their problems with designs, and got a glimpse of how to run a RPG company. This was very fascinating to me and I wanted to learn more. I participated in discussions, plussed interesting conversations, and felt like I was well on my way to learning how best to design games.

Unfortunately I've now realized that the conversations I've had (interesting as they are) were only a taste of the conversations I wanted to have. These conversations were more like idle chat amongst a group of people who happen to be in the same spot at the same time, and weren't at the deeper levels of game design. What I saw was the equivalent of the post-mortem or the public journal of game design. And while those are important they lacked one thing that would add another layer of depth to the discussion.

My own designs.

See, talking about things is not the same thing as doing the things. My own designs and programming have been hampered because I've spent more time trying to get folks to pay attention to me rather than put out the work itself. The benefits of having the conversations came at the costs of me making things to drive conversation.

In short, the benefits didn't match the costs, and I valued G+ and the interactions there more than I received.

That's not to say that I didn't have great conversations on G+ (or any other social media, for that matter). I still enjoy the heck out of bantering with folks online.

But the reality is that I don't need to replace G+ at all. My own happiness lies in spending more time doing the deeper work to create things that get people talking. Rather than spending my time decorating people's timelines with my witticisms and "plusses" I should instead work on things that bring about more benefit.

So as the bars close and people wander off to the next big thing I think I'll put on my jacket, bid my farewells, and saunter off home. And if we meet in one of the other establishments then we'll talk about the good times we had and then kindly get back to making amazing things together.