In summary, The Happiness Advantage showed us that happiness comes first and then success follows. Deep Work showed us that it’s only inside large swaths of focused time that we can truly get our best work done and we often let in way too many distractions which break up our focused time.
Inside these two broad themes there is some tension, though. They both purport to show you a path towards success, achievement, and happiness at work and in life, but they have ideas that contradict each other.
Principle 7 in The Happiness Advantage says that it’s the social connections we have at work and at home that help us through the hard times. To do this we need to … interact with the people at work. We need to let in some of these little interruptions as people stop by our office.
Those little interruptions are exactly what Deep Work spends time convincing us we need to avoid, or at the very least, minimize greatly.
Following the ideas in Deep Work you might work with headphones on and not talk to the people in your co-working space. Though when things get really tough and you try to reach out for that support from colleagues, you’ve got no real relationships to lean on for support.
Holding it in tension
In the ‘ideal’ world for many consultants, most days would be full of getting down to coding or design without interruptions, but it’s rare that our ideal day materializes in the midst of all that goes on around us. We must deal with less-than-ideal days and interruptions that break our flow.
While this may get us to the goals of having deep connections as suggested by Achor in The Happiness Advantage, it doesn’t achieve the goals of Newport in Deep Work. Interruptions leave us little time to actually sink into those items of true importance in our day.
Quite a while ago I talked about designing your ideal week. It’s in this practice of being intentional with our week that we can bring together the ideals from these two books. My ideal week sets aside three days of the week with nothing scheduled to interrupt my workday. I only take calls from existing clients or new clients on Tuesdays, and even then, only in a two-hour window. On Fridays, I coach. This leaves the rest of my week to get down to the business of doing the work I get paid to do.
That doesn’t talk about making the social connections that Achor says are required for strong resilience in the face of hardship though. It’s unlikely that the people on the phone are going to come alongside you when things get tough at home or when you need assistance moving. Those connections are made face-to-face and you need to have planned outlets for them.
Maybe it’s the gym (which it is for me five days a week) where you get to work out with a group of people who become your friends. At my co-working space there is one other person who shares my deep love of science fiction, and once a week or so we end up talking about our favourite books. Through that one-to-one contact, we’ve begun to build a deeper friendship that each of us can be called on when things get tough on either end of the friendship.
I believe the feeling of genuine connectedness only occurs when we disconnect digitally and reconnect physically. A retweet, a like, an up vote…no digital gesture of support can replace a simple, well-meaning pat on the shoulder. – Sharon Steed in Offscreen Magazine 13
All too often as digital workers we discount the face-to-face interactions that bring true friendship. We are happy to hole up in our fortress of solitude and write or type out code, or move pixels around a design then return to the family we live with. While we do need to make our families a top priority, we need to make sure that our spouse is not our only support line.
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It’s time to stop getting stuck in your fortress of solitude and take your life outside the walls of that protected life. Schedule in your times of intense focus and schedule in your times to spend with others. It’s only through having a healthy quantity of both that we can both get the work done that we are meant to do and maintain a healthy emotional state which will carry us through the tough times ahead.