I have a question for you all, but first I need to set some context on why I’m asking and why it’s important to me. My intentions here are to give a serious explanation of where my head is at and the best way I can explain to myself as to why, and what I think I need to do to move myself in the right direction for both my longevity, and my efficiency at Status.
The context (a personal one)
I have basically spent my entire life as a professional student, with very limited real responsibilities outside of deep study. It is quite natural to how my brain works, and where I find joy and fulfillment. I’m quite at peace by myself buried in a very hard problem. This is typically known as “deep work” and was popularized by Cal Newport in his book. It’s worth a read if you are unfamiliar, or google it to get the idea.
I then started to build a career out of this as I pursued my PhD in computational chemical physics, and went on to do a post-doc in the same field. My literal job was to not care about anything other than solving very hard problems, sometimes working very closely with a few people, but most of the time by myself.
Fast forward to today.
I have what amounts to my dream job: I work in a field I’m very passionate about and in a way that is very natural to me (without many boundaries as to how I do my job) and at a rate that allows me to support my family. I also get a chance to flex a myriad of skills I’ve tried to hone over my life to solve interesting, relevant, and potentially socially altering problems.
How the hell could someone be thinking about complaining about anything in any way?
I try to actively gauge my energy levels w.r.t. what I do regularly throughout the week, and measure how I spend my time, and that there is balanced in how I drain and replenish myself. Why? because I constantly worry I’ll fall prey to my parent’s life of successfully paving a road of “golden handcuffs,” and paving a road to a life they hated in order to maintain a status quo of “success.”
So as I’ve done this recently, I’ve noticed I no longer do any substantial “deep work.” My day-to-day seems to coast off the fruits of my prior career of deep work: Technical understanding, skillset, previous accolades, etc.
Furthermore, my time spent now is “managing” in a sense, where I triage, prepare, educate, decide, review, etc. I have found myself on the exact opposite spectrum of day-to-day than how I’ve developed myself in my formative years. I’d like to point out that I’m quite passionate about this work too, and its importance is equally high, and I feel I’m quite suited for doing it well. It is simply a very different set of skills, and way of thinking. It flexes different parts of the brain
This is a problem for a multitude of reasons:
- I feel that this is not long-term sustainable to my mental health. I derive fulfillment and joy from isolating myself and doing very deep, work. It energizes me. If I don’t do it, to use an analogy, I’m always driving the car and never filling it up with gas.
- I worry my ability to coast off the fruits of my previous life of deep work will run it’s course, and I will become “obsolete.” This space moves fast, and if I want to maintain a position of any relevance in expertise, I need to spend time understanding things deeply, not from a surface level. I also do not want the skills I use to fill my gas tank to atrophy.
- Most of my energy is spent maintaining, not pushing forward and creating. I feel I have a potential to really innovate (it’s a very large reason why I left academia for blockchain in the first place), but am not spending any real time thinking creatively, building new things, and exploring.
- Social culture and how we work tends towards pushing us to operating in triage mode: notifications, attention grabbers, emails, github PRs, meetings. The list goes on and on. It is easy to “productively procrastinate” these days, and you somehow find yourself at the end of the day without any real tasks done, but many more piled up. One has to actively block these things in a way to force deep work.
The question (finally)
How do you do it yourself? How do you balance the two modes of operation, both maintaining what you’ve built and are responsible for while including deep work regularly into your schedule? Have you ever thought about it? I’d like to try and learn from you all to explore how I can effectively incorporate deep work back into my life.
I admire all of you who I work with, and I feel lucky to work with such a wonderful group of people every day. I also try to take the time to learn from you as there tends to be a good amount of overlap for those that find themselves working for a company like Status.
Also, please understand that I am dedicated to my responsibilities at Status, and will continue to do whatever I am capable of to help push us in the right direction. Mostly, that dedication is what sparked me writing this diatribe. I want to make sure how I work is sustainable and maximally useful to pay tribute to the work you all do to do the same.